State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley (undated photo)
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley (undated photo)

The Obama administration on Monday expressed regret that China has cut off bilateral U.S.-Chinese military contacts and threatened to sanction U.S. defense firms over its decision to sell Taiwan new military hardware.  But U.S. officials say dialogue with Beijing on other key issues continues. 

Officials here are not surprised over the Chinese reaction, which mirrors Beijing's response to previous Taiwan arms deals.  They say it has not affected dialogue with China on other issues, including North Korea's nuclear program.

Long under consideration, the $6-billion arms package - including Patriot anti-missile systems, helicopters, mine-sweeping ships and advanced communications gear - was formally announced last Friday.

It is the latest in a series of arms sales in line with an act of Congress approved at the time U.S. relations with Beijing were normalized in 1979 and commits the United States to provide for Taiwan's defensive weapons needs.

China, which views Taiwan as part of it territory, called the arms package a gross violation of its internal affairs.  It announced a break in bilateral military contacts and threatened sanctions against U.S. defense firms involved in the sale.

At a press briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said China expressed its displeasure over Friday's announcement just as it has over previous sales, but that dialogue on other issues of the bilateral agenda are in both sides' interest and should go forward.

"We're doing nothing different today than we did in 2008, that we'd previous done on a regular basis based on our evaluation of Taiwan's needs," said P.J. Crowley. "We do provide them articles that we think contribute to Taiwan's defense.  What happened here was I don't think a mystery to China.  They objected in the past to what we've done and they objected this time.  We anticipated that.  We informed them of it and we will continue to work through this issue as we go forward."

Crowley said the sale is consistent with the precepts of the United States' "one-China" policy -officially recognizing only the Beijing government - and that the arms transfer will contribute to security and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

"We will continue to assert our national interests," he said. "We have a significant interest in stability in the region.  We have long-standing commitments to provide for Taiwan's defensive needs.  And we will as always pursue our interests.  But we will do so in a way that we think allows for positive and cooperative relations with China."

The arms sales announcement came only a day after what U.S. officials said was a constructive meeting in London between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, focusing on big-power efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

China has held out against tougher sanctions against Iran and Clinton warned at a policy forum in Paris on Friday that Beijing risks diplomatic isolation and economic uncertainty, if it doesn't join the consensus for stronger sanctions.

Clinton says that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are appropriate and have enabled Taiwan to feel more comfortable in drawing closer to China in commercial transactions.

A senior official here says Clinton did not inform her Chinese counterpart of the impending arms sales announcement, but that this did not amount to "blindsiding" Yang because U.S. intentions had been clear for some time.

He said China's embassy in Washington was told of the planned sales on Friday - the same time official notice was sent to the U.S. Congress.