China cancels military contacts with US in protest

By PAULINE JELINEK and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writers
Mon Oct 6, 6:38 PM ET

WASHINGTON - China has abruptly canceled a series of military and diplomatic contacts with the United States to protest a planned $6.5 billion package of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, American officials told The Associated Press on Monday.

Beijing has notified the U.S. that it will not go forward with several senior level visits and other cooperative military-to-military plans because of the sale, which was announced last week, Pentagon and State Department officials said.

"In response to Friday's announcement of Taiwan arms sales, the People's Republic of China canceled or postponed several upcoming military-to-military exchanges," said Marine Corps Maj. Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman, lamenting that "China's continued politicization of our military relationship results in missed opportunities."

The Chinese action will not stop the country's participation with the United States in international efforts over Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs, U.S. officials said.

But it does include the cancellation of an upcoming U.S. visit by a senior Chinese general, other similar visits, port calls by naval vessels and the indefinite postponement of meetings on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the officials said.

China will also not participate in an exchange with the United States on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief that was to take place before the end of November, they said.

"It's an unfortunate step," said deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Beijing is furious with the U.S. decision to sell Taiwan the huge package of advanced weaponry, including 182 Javelin guided missile rounds and 20 launch units, 32 Harpoon missiles, 330 Patriot missiles and 30 Apache attack helicopters. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, says the sale interferes with internal Chinese affairs and harms its national security.

"The Chinese government and the Chinese people strongly oppose and object to the U.S. government's actions, which harm Chinese interests and Sino-U.S. relations," its foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday, adding that U.S. diplomats had been summoned to hear a strong protest.

China's Ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, registered a similar protest at the State Department on Monday. A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington said it would be "only natural" for the ambassador to lodge a protest.

Upton stressed that the sale does not represent a change in U.S. policy and that Washington is only upholding the provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act under which the U.S. makes available items necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense.

Taiwan relies on U.S. weapons to keep pace with China's massive arms buildup across the Taiwan Strait. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are a crucial matter because any dispute between China and Taiwan could ensnare the United States.

Washington is Taiwan's most important ally and largest arms supplier.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Friday notified Congress of the plan to sell up to $6.5 billion in advanced weaponry and military items to Taiwan. Under procedures for such foreign military sales, the deal would proceed if lawmakers do not voice objections within 30 days of the notification.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to invade should the self-governing island ever formalize its de facto independence.