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US Arms Sales to Taiwan Latest Hit to Sino-American Ties

Experts hope the U.S.-China relationship will be strong enough to withstand negative developments from the planned U.S. arms sales to Taiwan

Sino-American ties are being buffeted by several difficulties -- the most recent being the announcement of a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, an island China regards as a renegade province. Experts acknowledge there will be disagreements, but say they hope the U.S.-China relationship will be strong enough to withstand negative developments.

China and Taiwan have a recent history that stretches back to the founding of the People's Republic of China more than 60 years ago. The Chinese Nationalists lost a civil war to the Communists in 1949, and fled to Taiwan, where they established a government whose sworn mission was to retake the mainland.

At first the United States recognized the government on Taiwan island as the legitimate government of China. Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but said it would still help the island defend itself.

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, and has vowed to take the separately-governed island back, by force, if necessary.

This is the context surrounding Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu's recent opposition to the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.

Ma says China is firmly against the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, and that this position is, in his words, "consistent, unequivocal and firm."

The U.S. deal to sell more than six billion dollars worth of military equipment to Taiwan had been hinted at for weeks, but was finally announced on Friday.

China responded by suspending military exchanges and threatening to impose sanctions on U.S. firms that sell Taiwan arms. It also hinted that the sale could have a negative effect on its overall relationship with the United States.

Peking University international studies professor Zhu Feng says China sees Taiwan as the biggest problem in Sino-American relations.

Zhu says if Washington needs Beijing's cooperation, it should improve its treatment of China and change its 30-year-old policy of selling arms to Taiwan.

To show its displeasure over the arms sale, the Chinese government Saturday summoned the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, to warn him of serious repercussions.

In a recent interview, Huntsman acknowledged that he expected problems between Washington and Beijing because of the Taiwan arms sales and an expected meeting between President Barack Obama and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

He also said the United States is very interested to see how China resolves a dispute with computer giant Google, over Internet censorship and cyber hacking.

At the same time, the U.S. official pointed to the need for greater Sino-American cooperation on issues of global significance - such as North Korea, Iran and climate change.

"This is all evidence of a relationship that continues to work, even though we have our disagreements, even though the headlines might scream our differences louder than we might like," Huntsman said. "We believe in expression, we believe in airing our differences. That is the sign of a mature and a healthy relationship."

Huntsman said the two countries will continue having disagreements and will continue discussing them. But he says Washington's hope is that the two sides can, in his words, "keep focused on the big picture."