China on Wednesday ordered France to close its Canton consulate in one month in retaliation for France’s reported plans to sell 60 Mirage fighter planes to Taiwan.
It was China’s first formal act of retaliation after repeated warnings that France would pay a heavy price for the sale.
The French government has refused to confirm the sale, but French and Taiwanese news reports said French companies signed contracts in November to sell 60 2000-5 jet fighters worth $2.6 billion and 1,000 missiles.
Chinese companies have also been stalling on planned deals with French companies. Some big-ticket items have been canceled, including a planned purchase of six Airbus passenger planes.
By contrast, China has yet to take strong measures against the United States, which announced in September that it will sell Taiwan 150 F-16 fighter planes.
Instead, China recently made several large purchases from the United States, including wheat, six Boeing passenger planes and a switching system from AT&T.;
The difference in responses appears to be based on pragmatic concerns. The United States is China’s No. 1 export market and a major source of high technology and investment.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Jiang Enzhu called French Ambassador Claude Martin to the Foreign Ministry Wednesday to order the consulate’s closure.
Jiang said the fighter sale “infringed on China’s sovereignty and security, interfered in China’s internal affairs and obstructed and jeopardized China’s efforts to achieve peaceful reunification.”
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Daniel Bernard, said his government regrets the Chinese move.