China condemns US upgrade of Taiwan F-16 jets

Beijing summons US ambassador over $5.3bn deal and threatens to undermine ties with Washington.

China has strongly condemned US plans for a $5.3bn upgrade to Taiwan’s US-built F-16s, calling it a “grave interference” in its internal affairs and threatened to undermine relations with Washington.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Zhang Zhijun, the country’s deputy foreign minister, summoned US ambassador Gary Locke in Beijing to deliver the protest over the warplanes deal.

“The wrongdoing by the U.S. side will inevitably undermine bilateral relations as well as exchanges and cooperation in military and security areas,” Zhang told Locke, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s defence ministry said that an upgrade package for the island’s aging F-16 A/B fighter jet fleet by the US will contribute to regional peace by improving Taiwanese capabilities in the face of a threat from China.

Zhijun however, voiced his country’s “strong indignation and resolute opposition” to the deal, according to hisministry’s website.

“No matter what the excuses and reasons, there can be no hiding that United States’ announcement of plans to sell arms to Taiwan is grave interference in China’s domestic affairs and sends a gravely mistaken signal to pro-Taiwan independence separatist forces,” said Zhang.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that it had agreed to the deal, which would include equipment, logistical support and training.

“Mainland China’s military expansion and threat against the ROC still exist,” Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement. The Republic of China (ROC) is Taiwan’s formal name.

“Improving our defence capability is a crucial and only measure to sustain regional security and stable development across the [Taiwan] strait.”

Past US arms sales to Taiwan have riled Beijing, which has always considered the use of force to be on the table for bringing the island under its control.

The AP news agency, however, reported that while the US had agreed to the F-16 upgrade, the country would not be providing Taiwan with any new later generation F-16/C and F-16/D aircraft, as Taiwan had requested.

Deputy foreign minister Zhang, however, said that the “wrongful” decision to go ahead with the deal would “unavoidably damage Sino-American relations and cooperation and exchanges in the military, security and other fields”.

Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China, is to be summoned by Zhang to discuss the deal, the official Chinese Xinhua news agency reported.

Zhang Yesui, Chinese ambassador to the United States, also lodged a strong protest on behalf of the Chinese government in Washington, Xinhua said.

‘Hazard and sensibility’

Taiwan’s military capabilities have for years been more advanced than China’s, based on co-operation with several other countries, but in recent years all but Washington have abandoned deals with it, fearing an angry response from China.

As China’s air force has modernised, Taiwan’s aerial military advantage has been steadily eroded. Analysts say this deal would do little to alter the balance.

In January 2010, China froze military ties and threatened sanctions against US firms after President Barack Obama approved a potential $6.4bn arms sale to Taiwan left over from the administration of George W Bush.

In a commentary released earlier on Wednesday, the Xinhua news agency warned that the US “should fully realise the hazard and sensibility of its arms sales deal with Taiwan and stop it to avoid any harm to China-US ties as well as cross-straits relations”.

Relations between China and Taiwan have warmed since Ma Ying-jeou was elected president of the island in 2008.

Ma has since signed a series of economic and trade deals, which have helped to bolster the island’s economy.

“The US sold defensive weapons to Taiwan in 2008 and 2010 and these arms sales did not change the direction of peaceful development across the strait,” the ministry said.

The upgrade deal is now subject to US congressional approval.

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