Arms sale threatens China exchanges

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 3

China might temporarily shut down or limit its military exchange program with the US if Washington announces new arms sales to Taiwan later this week, a media report said.

While there has been no official announcement of an imminent arms sales package, it is being reported in the US media that it is due in the next few days.

“The Pentagon is bracing for a potential cutoff of its military exchange program with China in response to the latest congressional notification of some US$1 billion in arms sales to Taiwan,” the online newspaper Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday.

“Defense officials said formal notification of the arms package aimed at bolstering the island’s defenses will be sent to [the US] Congress this week,” Investigative reporter Bill Gertz, who has good inside contacts with the US Department of Defense, writes in the newspaper.

It is set to include two US Navy frigates and 12 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, and the package is also to include Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin and TOW anti-tank missiles, he wrote.

“The [US President Barack] Obama administration, fearful of upsetting Beijing, rejected offering Taiwan new and more modern F-16 jets,” Gertz wrote.

The article quoted former military intelligence official Larry Wortzel as saying that he expects the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to cancel senior officer visits or exchanges for a period of time, as well as some forms of other military contacts.

Claremont McKenna College China specialist Minxin Pei (斐敏欣) said in a recent paper that the military exchange program allowed senior military officers on both sides to have opportunities to engage each other in substantive and even contentious discussions about their missions, strategies and threat assessment.

“These activities can occasionally bear fruit and help moderate tensions,” he wrote.

The Taipei Times was not able to independently confirm that an announcement of the arms sales package was imminent.

However, congressional sources said that they believed the announcement would come by Friday and that it would contain only long-expected items and no surprises.

The White House on Monday said that Obama spoke by telephone on Sunday night with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to express his appreciation for the important role China played in securing a historic climate agreement in Paris on Saturday last week.

One source later told the Taipei Times there was no indication that Taiwan was mentioned during that conversation.

A congressional staffer said that members he had talked to were confident the White House would inform the US Congress about the arms sales package this week.

He said the White House was not “overly concerned” about the Chinese reaction, although some short-term disruption in military-to-military contacts was possible.

“This is positive and helpful toward promoting regional peace and stability,” Ministry of National Defense spokesman Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said yesterday at a regular press briefing in Taipei, adding that the ministry has not received official notice about the authorization.

Additional reporting by Reuters