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China Cuts US Military Exchanges Over Taiwan Arms Sales

The Bush administration is expressing disappointment over a Chinese decision to cancel or postpone some military exchanges because of U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan. But U.S. officials say China is not withdrawing from critical multi-lateral talks on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Administration officials say the Chinese decision to curtail military exchanges over the Taiwan arms package is unfortunate, but they say Beijing has said it intends to remain engaged in the North Korea and Iran nuclear negotiations.

China has responded angrily to an announcement that the United States will sell Taiwan more than $6 billion - worth of military hardware, including Apache attack helicopters, Patriot air defense missiles, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

The package, under negotiation for several years, was announced last Friday and will go forward if there are no objections from the U.S. Congress in the next 30 days.

China's ambassador to Washington, Zhou Wengzhong, met Monday with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns to lodge a protest and inform him that China will cancel or postpone several planned military exchanges.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said the pending Taiwan arms sales are in line with long-standing U.S. policy to provide the island with defensive arms:

"It is an unfortunate decision that the Chinese have taken," said Robert Wood. "We have explained to them that what we have done is very much in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act in terms of selling defensive systems to the Taiwanese, and we will continue to work with the Chinese on a whole range of issues where we have mutual interests."

The Taiwan Relations Act, approved by Congress when the United States switched political recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979, commits the United States to make available items necessary for Taiwanese self-defense.

A senior official who spoke to reporters said the United States had consulted China about the pending sales plan several times, and that it should not have come as any surprise to Beijing. He said while China has registered its displeasure, it has also told the United States that intends to remain engaged with Washington on important strategic issues.

Those he said include the six-party talks sponsored by China on North Korea's nuclear program, and the overtures to Iran by the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany aimed at getting that country to halt uranium enrichment.

At the Pentagon, Spokesman Brian Whitman said the military exchanges canceled or postponed by China include some senior-level military visits and a humanitarian disaster-relief exercise that had been planned for later this year.

Whitman said the Defense Department is "disappointed" over the Chinese decision and looks forward eventually to the resumption of the exchanges, which he said are seen in Asia as important to regional understanding.