China Angered by US Proposal to Sell Anti-Missile Radar to Taiwan

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - China has stepped up its attempts to isolate Taiwan, while accusing the U.S. of encouraging independence-minded Taiwanese and sending "the wrong message" by planning to sell advanced military radar to the island democracy.

This week alone, China has called on the U.S. to voice its opposition to Taiwan's independence; won over one of Taiwan's few diplomatic allies; and pressured Australian lawmakers not to support Taipei's bid for membership of the U.N.'s health body.

At a meeting in Berlin between Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Chinese official urged the U.S. "to oppose" independence for Taiwan, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Li also asked the U.S. to refrain from any official contact with Taiwanese authorities.

The appeal came four days after the U.S. formally congratulated Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian on his re-election, an action that implicitly recognized the island's government as legitimate, and drew Chinese complaints of interference in its "internal affairs."

The State Department's carefully-worded policy is that the U.S. "does not support" Taiwanese independence, and that it does not want to see any unilateral move that will change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

While it says it upholds the "one China" policy, the U.S. is also bound - under the 25-year-old Taiwan Relations Act - to provide Taiwan with weapons necessary "to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability" against an attack by China.

Taiwan is targeted by at least 500 missiles deployed along the mainland coast.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon agency responsible for arms sales said it had approved the sale of a $1.7 billion early-warning radar system to the island.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement the proposed sale would "contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient, which has been and continues to be an important force for economic progress in the Far East."

It said the radars would help Taiwan identify and detect ballistic and cruise missiles, and be a key element of its "air and missile defense architecture."

The agency also said the sale would not affect the basic military balance in the region.

"We have always opposed U.S. sales of such advanced weapons," Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in response to the announcement, adding that China had asked the U.S. to clarify the proposed sale.

"Especially under the current complex and sensitive situation across the Taiwan Strait, we demand the United States to be faithful to what it has said and to abide by its promises and not send wrong signals to Taiwan's independence [lobby]," he said.

Kong reiterated Beijing's stance that Taiwan is "the most sensitive and important question" in Sino-U.S. ties.

But other issues have also arisen in recent days.

Briefings by the State Department in Washington have touched on matters relating to China's human rights record, including the detention of pro-democracy activists and U.S. plans to sponsor a resolution critical of China at the U.N. Commission of Human Rights session underway in Geneva.

Washington has also raised concerns about steps by China to slow down the pace of democratic reform in Hong Kong, and about the Chinese currency, which the U.S. says is pegged against the dollar at a rate favorable to Chinese exporters.

In Beijing, meanwhile, foreign ministry briefings have criticized the U.S. for its position on China's human rights and Hong Kong, and also for a requirement that Chinese applicants for U.S. visas be fingerprinted.

On Thursday, the ministry briefing used the third anniversary of a midair collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese military jet to call on Washington to respect China's sovereignty and not carry out surveillance missions along its borders.

The to-and-fro rhetoric comes just weeks before Vice President Dick Cheney is due to visit China in mid-April.

'A province of China'

China's steps to counter Taiwan are not aimed exclusively at the U.S.

It succeeded this week in winning over one of Taiwan's handful of diplomatic allies, with the Dominican Republic exchanging recognition of Taipei for ties with Beijing. The coup leaves Taiwan with full relations with just 26 developing countries.

And in Australia, a move to pass a parliamentary motion in support of Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization (WHO) has prompted the Chinese Embassy in Canberra to write to every lawmaker, warning them to oppose it.

It said WHO membership was reserved for sovereign states, and "since Taiwan is a province of China" the mainland represented its health interests.

Last year, Taiwan called that assertion into question when it and other mostly Asian countries were grappling with deadly SARS epidemic, which originated in China.

Other countries struggling with the virus had considerable assistance from the WHO, but Taiwan had to deal with the crisis alone for two months before Beijing gave the U.N. body the go-ahead to send experts to the island to help.

As part of its ongoing campaign to ensure the international community does not recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, Beijing has repeatedly stymied Taiwan's applications to join the WHO - or even to be granted observer status.

In the U.S., the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday supporting Taiwan's bid for observer status at the WHO Assembly, the agency's decision-making body, which meets next in Geneva in May.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow