September 28, 2011

China May Scale Back Exchanges Over Deal

China is preparing to “suspend, cancel or postpone” a series of military-to-military exchanges with the US to protest Washington’s decision to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16A/B aircraft.

A senior official in US President Barack Obama’s administration leaked the news on Monday night in New York.

Talking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, the official said that Chinese diplomats had informed the US of the pending action during private meetings at the UN General Assembly earlier in the day.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) met behind closed doors with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and urged her to “reconsider” the latest package of arms sales announced last week.

He warned that the US$5.85 billion arms package would undermine “trust and confidence” between Washington and Beijing. However, he pointedly refrained from any specific threats of cuts to military-to-military exchanges, which Washington values greatly.

The delivery of that piece of bad news was left to his staff.

Yang made “very serious representations” the official said, adding that Clinton gave no indication that the US would reconsider.

Pentagon sources consider the Beijing action to be rather more restrained than it was in late January last year when Washington announced a US$6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. On that occasion, Beijing made a series of continuing loud protests and stopped all military-to-military consultation for months.

It is generally accepted in Washington that the less bellicose approach this time reflects Beijing’s satisfaction that Obama — bowing to China’s diplomatic pressure — is not selling Taiwan the 66 F-16C/D aircraft that it requested.

Clinton said following her meeting with Yang that the latest sale of arms to Taiwan would help to maintain peace and security across the Taiwan Strait. She praised the improved ties between China and Taiwan under the policy of rapprochement initiated by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

However, Clinton said that in the short term there would be a need for the US and China to coordinate and cooperate closely through “difficult diplomatic times.”Earlier, Yang told businesspeople in New York that the US-China relationship would overcome the arms sales problems and “continue to move forward.”

Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, has written in the Washington Post that “nothing of late quite captures what is going on in terms of a global power shift as much as the US refusal to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets.”

“The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it; by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess,” he wrote.

“Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean,” Kaplan wrote.