China strongly condemned a $5.85 billion US deal to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets, summoning the US ambassador and warning the move would undermine warming military relations.
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, urged the United States to cancel the deal and said it had jeopardized recent improvements in military ties between the two world powers and affected relations with Taiwan.
But analysts said the deal, which stopped short of selling new planes to Taiwan, would probably not be as damaging as an earlier arms package that led to a break in China-US military exchanges in 2010.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, speaking in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, urged the United States to scrap the deal, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
Earlier, vice foreign minister Zhang Zhijun urged Washington to “immediately cancel the wrong decision” and summoned US Ambassador Gary Locke to protest against the deal, branded a “huge mistake” by China’s top newspaper.
But Jean-Pierre Cabestan, political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Beijing had learned lessons from the 2010 break-off in military ties and was unlikely to react as strongly this time.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang will seek re-election in January and Cabestan said China would be keen not to cause any upsets ahead of the polls.
Taiwan first lodged a request to buy 66 F-16 C/D fighters – which have better radar and more powerful weapons systems than its F-16 A/Bs – in 2007 in response to China’s growing military muscle.
Observers and media in Taiwan said that while the deal may mean little in any war with China, it represented a valuable sign of US commitment to help the island’s defence.