September 28, 2011 8:10 AM
BEIJING - China's military exchanges with the U.S. will suffer after Washington announced a $5.85 billion arms package for Taiwan, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday, confirming expectations that Beijing would retaliate over the sale.
High-level exchanges, joint drills, and other large-scale activities will be affected "in light of the serious damage" resulting from the sale, ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a news conference open to Chinese reporters only.
That follows the months-long suspension of military contacts last year following the announcement of another arms deal for Taiwan. China views such exchanges as a political bargaining chip, frustrating U.S. officials who say they are important in building confidence and avoiding confrontations as China's military modernizes.
It wasn't clear whether additional retaliation would be taken.
Chinese vice president and future leader Xi Jinping was expected to make an important visit to Washington in coming months but no specific dates have been announced. There have also been calls in the media and among the military for commercial reprisals against companies involved in the upgrades, but China's own fledgling commercial aerospace and other high-tech industries rely heavily on American technical expertise.
China regards self-governing Taiwan, which lies 100 miles off the coast of the mainland, as part of its territory. The U.S. is obligated under legislation passed by Congress in 1979 to provide the island with weapons for its self-defense.
The U.S. sparked Chinese anger by agreeing to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of 145 F-16s that the U.S. sold it in the 1990s, although it deferred a request to sell the island a more advanced version of the plane.
U.S. officials said Chinese diplomats had earlier told them China would respond by canceling or postponing some U.S.-China military exchanges.
However, the chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Robert Willard, said Tuesday Beijing was very likely to retain the highest-level exchanges of visits because of their importance to China, allowing the two sides to continue strategic discussions.
The Obama administration has deepened ties with Beijing, and sees the military exchanges as mitigating the risk of U.S. forces tangling with China's in East Asia and the West Pacific. Since May, the U.S. joint chiefs of staff and his Chinese counterparts have both visited each other.