Top US and Chinese officials were to discuss arms sales to Taiwan at separate meetings in Washington and Beijing yesterday, sources said.
In Washington, Wang Yi (王毅), the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, was scheduled to meet with State Department officials, while in Beijing, US Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy was to head a US delegation in talks with Chinese officials, including People’s Liberation Army deputy chief of staff Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian (馬嘯天).
Taiwan’s National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) is believed to have been briefed on the situation during a low-profile visit to Washington late last month.
However, US officials were reluctant to say anything on Monday about the substance or significance of the meetings.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Ian Kelly was asked who would be meeting with Wang and what would be on the agenda.
He said: “You know, I’m not sure. So, if we can get you information, I will get you information.”
Pressed by reporters at the routine daily briefing about “new developments across the Taiwan Strait” he said: “Well, we are — we are very supportive of a lessening of tensions across the strait. And we would — we would welcome further such developments.”
Other well-placed Washington sources confirmed that future arms sales to Taiwan were on the agenda for the meeting with Wang.
Meanwhile, reports from Beijing indicated that Flournoy’s meetings would constitute the 10th annual round of defense consultations on building closer military ties and would mark the resumption of military exchanges between the two countries.
The Chinese Defense Ministry announced in a news release that the two sides would talk about “bilateral military relations, Taiwan issues, international and regional security issues and other issues of common concern.”
The release added: “China attaches great importance to this round of consultative talks and hopes to make concerted efforts with the United States to ensure positive results from the talks.”
Pentagon sources would not confirm that the two sets of meetings were linked, even though they would be going on at the same time.
But a well-connected academic at a Washington-based think tank said, “You would be right in thinking that this is not a coincidence.”
The financial news service Bloomberg reported that Flournoy’s delegation aims to win a resumption of high-level visits by Chinese military officials to Washington, increased cooperation and more open discussion of China’s military buildup.
“The US has expressed concern for years that China is building up its military strength near Taiwan and asserting maritime rights with moves such as harassing the US Navy vessel Impeccable in March. China’s defense spending has increased by more than 16 percent a year for the past decade, according to Chinese government figures,” Bloomberg reported.
Other sources said that aside from Taiwan issues, the Beijing meeting would concentrate on the North Korea nuclear crisis and the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam, which is being shadowed by the US Navy and is believed to be carrying missiles and related parts to Myanmar in violation of UN sanctions.
Sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said that at both the Washington and Beijing meetings the possible future US sale to Taiwan of F-16 fighter planes, helicopters and diesel submarine technology would be on the agenda.
During his visit to Washington last month, Su discussed cross-strait relations with high-level officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama, including Jeffery Bader, senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BLOOMBERG