Arms sales to Taiwan hurt Sino-US military relations

08:18, May 20, 2011      

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A senior Chinese military officer on Wednesday played down media reports about the mainland's missile deployment across the Taiwan Straits, but warned against further US arms sales to the island.

Chen Bingde (R), chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, arrives for a joint news briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen. (Saul Loeb / Agence France-Presse)

"I can tell you here, responsibly, that we only have garrison deployment across the Taiwan Straits, and we do not have operational deployment, much less missiles stationed there," Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), said at a joint news briefing at the Pentagon with Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The military development is mainly targeted at the separatist forces," Chen said.

The general, in response to a question about Taiwan's request to buy US F-16 combat aircraft, told reporters that if the Pentagon goes ahead with additional arms sales to Taiwan, it would definitely undermine Sino-US military relations.

"As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan."

He urged Washington to review the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which provides a legal basis for the Pentagon to sell "defensive arms" to Taiwan, since cross-Straits relations have undergone fundamental changes over the past decades.

"The US is using a domestic law to handle another country's internal affairsto be honest, it's too overbearing."

The general equated Beijing's position on Taiwan to Abraham Lincoln's commitment to preserving the Union. "The Union is unbroken," Chen said, quoting Lincoln.

Beijing broke off military ties in January last year after the US approved a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan. China rejected a proposal in June for a visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Military ties only started to warm up at the end of last year. A visit to China by Gates in early January finally eased tension and put relations back on track.

A news release issued after the talks between Chen and Mullen said that the Chinese and US navies will conduct a series of joint exercises to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The militaries of the two countries will also conduct a joint exercise next year in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Exchange visits by navy hospital ships, plus a joint exercise focusing on medical aid, are also on the agenda.

Chen, the first chief of the general staff to visit the US in seven years, headed a delegation that included senior officers from all branches of the military.

The delegation also met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several members of the US Congress.

Both Chen and Mullen emphasized that agreements were reached within the framework of building a "US-China cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit", a consensus that President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama attained during Hu's official visit to the US in January.

Chen and Mullen highlighted the fact that "a healthy, stable and reliable military-to-military relationship is an important part of the China-US relationship".

Their talks provided an "opportunity to validate our assumptions of each other so we can make adjustments accordingly", Mullen said.

Chen played down Chinese military advances on his trip, telling an audience of US military officers and faculty members at the National Defense University that the PLA lagged at least 20 years behind developed Western nations.

Chen made a similar point later at the Pentagon news conference.

"I can tell you that China does not have the capability to challenge the US," he said, adding that China's wealth and military strength pales in comparison with that of the US. China's navy is 20 years behind the US navy. he said.

"To be honest, I feel very sad after visiting (the US), because I think, I feel and I know, how poor our equipment is and how underdeveloped we remain," Chen said.

"Although China's defense and military development has come a long way in recent years, a gaping gap between you and us remains," Chen said.

"China never intends to challenge the US," he added.

Mutual trust and especially mutual respect and accommodation of each other's core interests are essential to China-US military ties, Chen said.

Chen and Mullen discussed US reconnaissance activities in waters close to China.

The two military chiefs also stressed shared concerns over such issues as nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change, energy security and piracy, Mullen said.

Above all, "what he (Chen) and I both talked about is the future, a peaceful future, a better one for our children and grandchildren", Mullen said.

"That (future) does not include conflict between China and the US."

Chen extended an invitation to Mullen and his wife to visit China, an invitation that Mullen accepted.

Liu Lin, an expert on world military studies with the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said US politicians have a tradition of overreacting to the Chinese mainland's military deployment across the Taiwan Straits.

"It is a domestic affair. But the US uses it as an excuse for arms sales to Taiwan," Liu said.

Yao Yunzhu, a researcher at the same academy, said it is time for Washington to "review whether the Taiwan Relations Act, passed more than 30 years ago, is still relevant (in dealing with the Chinese island)".

Li Xiaokun in Beijing, AP, Reuters contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily
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