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US Announces Taiwan Arms Sale, Braces for Chinese Reaction

  • Al Pessin

The Pentagon has informed Congress it will sell more than $6 billion worth of military equipment to Taiwan, a move expected to anger China and possibly result in retaliation.

The Pentagon's official notification was long expected. It says the United States will sell helicopters, advanced defensive missiles, anti-mine ships, radar, communications equipment and related items to Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. The planned sale does not include advanced F-16 fighter jets, which Taiwan had wanted.

Past U.S. arms sales to the island have resulted in retaliation, such as the suspension of military exchanges. China's state-run media has hinted there will a strong retaliation this time, quoting hard-line officials as saying China should not put up with continued American military support for Taiwan. The United States has a treaty commitment to help the island maintain its defenses, and wants Taiwan and China to settle their differences peacefully.

Speaking Friday morning, before the official announcement, President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser, retired General James Jones, said relations with China are of the "utmost importance" and a "very, very high priority" for the United States. And he added this. "We all recognize that there are certain things that our countries will do periodically that may not make everybody completely happy, but we are bent on towards a new relationship with China as a rising power in the world and influence on a variety of issues that go beyond arms sales and go beyond military confrontation," he said.

U.S. officials have said they hope China does not retaliate for the sale, saying the American-Chinese relationship is too important to be affected by occasional disputes over specific policies. Late Friday, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he is particularly concerned about the future of working-level exchanges between the American and Chinese militaries. "My thoughts are very much not even close to just the senior leadership perspective because I really want our younger officers to meet each other because that's the future, that's going to be the relationship," he said.

The admiral told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies he does not want a repeat of the mistake made when the United States froze relations with Pakistan. That left the two countries with a generation of military officers who don't know each other, just when they need to work together to defeat a common enemy.

In recent years, China has sharply increased its defense spending and capabilities, and plans to continue to do so, making it a potential competitor to the United States, which intends to remain the predominant power in the Pacific. U.S. officials say the more visits, exchanges and joint exercises the American and Chinese militaries can conduct, the less likely it is there will any kind of be confrontation.

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