China’s turn to blast America

China suspended military exchanges with the US and threatened sanctions against American defence companies on Saturday, just hours after Washington announced $6.4 billion in planned arms sales to Taiwan. The development has further strained the complex relations between the two powers, which are increasingly linked by security and economic issues. China’s Defence Ministry said the sales to self-governing Taiwan, which the mainland claims as its own, cause “severe harm” to overall US-China cooperation, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The Foreign Ministry threatened sanctions against US companies involved in the arms sales.

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy, Susan Stevenson, had no comment on China’s actions on Saturday. Taiwan is the most sensitive topic in US-China relations, and the sales announced on Friday could complicate cooperation between the two sides on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to the loosening of internet controls, including a Google-China standoff over censorship. China’s Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei warned US Ambassador Jon Huntsman that the sales of Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and other weapons to Taiwan would “cause consequences that both sides are unwilling to see,” a ministry statement said.

The US is Taiwan’s most important ally and largest arms supplier, and it is bound by law to ensure the island is able to respond to Chinese threats. China responds angrily to any proposed arms sale, however, and it also cut off military ties with the US in 2008 after the former Bush administration announced a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan. Washington has tried to use military visits to build trust with Beijing and learn more about the arms of its massive military buildup.

Overall ties have been tense as President Barack Obama plans to meet with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, this year. It is not known whether the Taiwan arms sale will affect President Hu Jintao’s expected visit to the US this year. Experts on China warned Beijing could take further steps to punish the US to show its new found power and confidence in world affairs. The latest suspension of military ties should affect planned visits to China by US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. A visit to the US by the Chinese military’s chief of the general staff, Gen.Chen Bingde, could also be called off.

The US Congress has 30 days to comment on the newest arms sales before the plan goes forward. Lawmakers traditionally have supported such sales. Though Taiwan’s ties with China have warmed considerably since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took office 20 months ago, Beijing has threatened to invade if the island ever formalizes its de facto independence. China has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.

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