US arms sales to Taiwan on hold

08:11, June 30, 2010      

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The US is holding back arms sales to Taiwan due to effective lobbying from the Chinese mainland, sources said.

The latest print edition of US-based Defense News on Monday quoted Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, as saying arms sales are on hold until at least the spring of 2011.

He said Taiwan is still waiting for upgrades to its F-16A/B planes, and its request for 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft has been on hold since 2006.

According to the reports, a Washington defense analyst said "the Chinese are ramping up the pressure and engaging us in disinformation to complicate our review, particularly in the context of a vulnerable process for arms sales."

Chinese officials have called the release of new F-16s to Taiwan a "red line," and yet it is unclear what China would do if the US sent the fighters. Despite the ambiguity, Washington is taking the threat seriously and arms sales are "frozen" for this year, Hammond-Chambers said.

The report was not approved by official US sources but the Pentagon-backed Defense News has at times released US military decisions in advance.

In recent years, the arms sales have worsened bilateral ties and the majority of Chinese do not believe that US arms sales would come to a immediate stop.

Sun Zhe, a professor with Beijing based Tsinghua University said neither Washington nor Taipei have any intention of giving up arms sales.

He said Hammond-Chambers represents US arms dealers and his words could only be seen as putting pressure on the US government.

"China should have two strings to its bow and we need more effective and strategic countermeasures," he said.

Li Daguang, a military specialist with the University of National Defense, said the move is at least a sign of goodwill from the US. With the rise of China's international position, the United States should be more flexible on issues concerning China's core interests, Li said.

"It's the common interests of both Beijing and Washington that forced the latter to make such a decision," he said, adding that China is of greater strategic importance than the arms sales.

Li said the trend should be toward the resumption of military interactions between Beijing and Washington.

In another development, AFP reported that during the meeting between President Hu Jintao and his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the just-concluded G-20 summit, Obama signaled to Hu that tensions over US arms sales to Taiwan should be put to rest.

In an indication that military dialogue was critical to better ties, Obama told Hu that the US was "looking forward to an invitation for a visit" to Beijing by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates "in the coming months."

Earlier this month, China called off a planned visit by Gates after Beijing told the Pentagon the timing was "inconvenient," despite an invitation for Gates to visit in 2010.

It was an apparent snub over a $6.4-billion arms package unveiled in January for Taiwan, including helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine-hunting ships.

Li Xiaokun contributed to the story



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