POLITICS

China military blasts U.S. arms sales to Taiwan

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's military and state media warned the United States on Thursday it will pay for selling arms to Taiwan through less cooperation from Beijing, a warning that is likely to unsettle, but not derail, ties with Washington.

China's Foreign Ministry has already lambasted the Obama administration for telling U.S. Congress on Wednesday that it plans a $5.3 billion upgrade of Taiwan's F-16 fighter fleet, and Beijing warned that the step would damage Sino-American military and security links.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland eventually, and by force if necessary.

"The Chinese military expresses its utmost indignation and strong condemnation of this action that gravely interferes in China's domestic affairs and damages China's sovereignty and national security interests," a Ministry of Defense spokesman, Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng, said on the ministry's website (www.mod.gov.cn).

China opposes U.S. arms sales to the island on the grounds they sabotage Beijing's plans for reunification. Washington says it wants Beijing and Taipei to determine their future peacefully, and is obliged by U.S. law to help Taiwan defend itself.

Yet despite Beijing's ire, the tensions appear unlikely to match last year's, when Chinese anger over an earlier U.S. arms offer to Taiwan added to several disputes that roiled relations with Washington for many months.

In January 2010, China froze military-to-military ties and threatened sanctions against U.S. arms makers after President Barack Obama approved a potential $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan left over from the administration of George W. Bush.

This year both sides have sought to keep relations on a steadier path ahead of 2012, when Obama faces re-election and China's Communist Party undergoes a leadership handover.

The arms sales announcement will add to other recent irritants in the vast Sino-American relationship.

These include Washington's decision to challenge Chinese duties on U.S. poultry products and accelerating momentum in the U.S. Congress to pass legislation pressing China to loosen controls on its yuan currency exchange rate.

Geng said the U.S. offer of weapons sales to Taiwan would "create serious obstacles to the development of ordinary exchanges between our two militaries."

"The responsibility for wrecking the development of Sino-U.S. military ties lies entirely with the U.S.," he said.

The People's Daily, the main paper of China's ruling Communist Party, added to the condemnation and warned the United States it has a big economic stake in ties with China.

"Every time the U.S. plans to sell weapons on a large scale to Taiwan, it unavoidably subjects China-U.S. relations to torment and bilateral cooperation is damaged," said a commentary in the paper.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)