In the latest sign of deteriorating ties, China has warned the United States to halt an arms sale to Taiwan or face severe consequences.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu lodged the threat during a regular news briefing in response to questions on US-China relations in 2010.
The warning comes amid plans by the US government to sanction the sale of several billion dollars in Black Hawk helicopters and anti-missile batteries to Taiwan early this year. The deal is set to be followed by a plan to gauge the design and construction of diesel-powered submarines for the island, which China deems a wayward province.
US President Barack Obama is also set to meet with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, also considered a separatist state by China.
Jang said China firmly opposes Washington’s proposed arms sale, saying it would “undermine US-China relations.”
She urged Washington to “clearly recognise the severe consequences of arms sales to Taiwan and adhere to the three Sino-US joint communiques, especially the principles established in the Joint Communique on August 17, 1982.”
Washington is the top arms supplier of Taiwan, and under the Taiwan Relations Act the United States is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons.
China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949, and during a recent visit to China in November, Obama reiterated Washington’s longstanding belief that there was “only one China.”
Experts say the unexpected downturn in relations between China and the United States comes amid a flurry of efforts by Washington to forge closer ties.
White House officials believe the damage in ties with Beijing can be contained. Still, the impending tension comes at a sensitive time.
Washington needs Beijing’s help on three important international issues: Iran, North Korea and “restructuring its economy so that its people consume more and export less,” according to a report in The Washington Post.
While opposing sanctions against Iran, China recently backed a strongly worded statement to Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency. China is also poised to back sanctions against North Korea and urge Pyongyang to return to nuclear disarmament talks.
Even so, in recent days, a leading US business group accused the Obama administration of compromising Taiwan’s security for the sake of promoting closer ties with China.
The group, the US-Taiwan Business Council, represents scores of companies doing business with Taiwan including Raytheon, which last month won a $1.1 billion contract for new Patriot missiles to Taiwan.