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Terrorism & Security

Taiwan arms deal sours U.S.-China relations

In a foreign military sales program, the US has sold Taiwan $18.3 billion worth of weapons between 1950 and 2006.

By Jonathan Adams / October 6, 2008

Washington's approval of nearly $6.5 billion in arms sales to Taiwan Friday drew a relieved "thank you" from the self-governed island nation, but sharp rebukes from Beijing.

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The Bush administration on Friday notified Congress of the deal, after an unusually long delay that had led some to question the strength of the US security commitment to Taiwan.

Taiwan has not yet purchased the weapons. But a Congressional notification is the point in the arms sales process that triggers a storm of official Chinese diplomatic protests, said Mark Stokes, a former top Pentagon official dealing with China and Taiwan, in a talk to the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club earlier this year.

China typically summons top US diplomats in Beijing and elsewhere for a sharp dressing-down immediately after such notifications, Mr. Stokes said.

According to Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency, the foreign ministry this time summoned the US embassy's charge d'affaires in Beijing. The report cited a statement on China's foreign ministry website.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Taipei welcomed the news. Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, took power in May on a platform of improved commercial ties with China. But he also wants to maintain a robust defense in order to counter China's military buildup across the Taiwan Strait.

China views Taiwan as rebel territory and vehemently opposes any US arms sales to the island. The US is bound by domestic law to make available to Taiwan sufficient weapons for its self-defense.

Further complicating the issue, Taiwanese themselves cannot agree on the nature and extent of the threat from China. Their bickering held up Taipei's arms request for several years, amid legislative gridlock.

Some of the arms approved for sale Friday were initially offered by the Bush administration in 2001. Taiwan purchased and received several of those systems, notably four Kidd-class destroyers.


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