Taiwan has long sought replacements for its aging F-16A/B fleet. Above, Taiwanese Air Force F-16s perform during a 2007 air show. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)
26 Sep 2011 By LACHLAN CARMICHAEL, AFP Defensenews
NEW YORK - Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Sept. 26 asked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reconsider the U.S. decision to upgrade F-16 fighters for Taiwan.
A senior State Department official said the Chinese had warned in separate conversations of potential damage to U.S.-China military ties if the $5.85 billion F-16 upgrade is not revoked.
"They indicated they are going to suspend, or cancel or postpone a series of ... military-to-military engagements," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
China's state news agency Xinhua said Yang had indicated that Washington "grossly interfered in China's internal affairs and seriously undermined China's security."
"China urged the U.S. to attach great importance to China's solemn position and take it very seriously, correct the mistake of selling weapons to Taiwan by revoking the above-mentioned wrong decision, eliminate its negative influence, stop arms sales to Taiwan and U.S.-Taiwan military contact, and take real actions to uphold the larger interest of China-U.S. relations," it quoted Yang as saying.
During his meeting in New York with Clinton, Yang made "very serious representations" about the upgrade, the U.S. official said.
Yang "indicated that it would harm the trust and confidence" between the two world powers, but Clinton gave no sign that the United States would reconsider, the official added.
In turn, the top U.S. diplomat spoke of Washington's firm commitment to expanding ties with China, according to Xinhua.
"The U.S. welcomes and supports the peaceful development of relations between China's mainland and Taiwan, and will continue to be devoted to promoting peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits," Clinton was quoted as saying.
"The U.S. is willing to properly handle the differences between the two countries and avoid disrupting cooperation between the two sides," she said.
President Obama's administration on Sept. 21 approved a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's fighter jets that stopped short of selling new F-16s.
Taiwan and U.S. officials said the upgrade would improve the island's defenses as it faces a rising China, which has ramped up military spending and widened its strategic edge over the self-governing territory.
Officials in Washington and Taipei said Taiwan would get a retrofit of 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets, which will be equipped with modern weapons and radar capable of detecting China's new stealth airplanes.
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, is urging Washington to cancel the deal and said it had jeopardized recent improvements in military ties between the world powers and affected relations with Taiwan.
But analysts said the deal would probably not be as damaging as an earlier arms package that led to a break in China-U.S. military exchanges in 2010.
China's defeated nationalists fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war in 1949.
Ties between China and Taiwan have improved markedly since Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 and ramped up trade and other links.
But China has refused to renounce the use of force against the self-governing island, and Ma has publicly sought new F-16s.
Washington recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, but remains a leading arms supplier to the island of 23 million inhabitants, providing a source of continued U.S.-China tension.
Relations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries have improved over the past year, and Adm. Mike Mullen became the first chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2007 to visit China with his trip earlier this year.
Clinton and Yang also tackled North Korea, tension over China's claims to the South China Sea, and Pakistan as well as global economic issues, including "some of the concerns about developments in Europe," the U.S. official said.
The two countries agreed they had a responsibility "to take the necessary steps to spur global growth."