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Experts: US arms deal won't hurt Taiwan-China ties

Experts: US arms deal won't hurt Taiwan-China ties

Despite a furious denunciation of U.S. plans to sell $6.4 billion of arms to Taiwan, Beijing is unlikely to lash out at the democratic island, because it fears undermining its China-friendly president, Taiwanese analysts say.
The weapons deal, announced Friday, includes missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, information distribution systems and two Osprey Class Mine Hunting Ships. The package, however, dodged a touchy issue: F-16 fighter jets, which Taiwan covets, are not included.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. The communist government in Beijing continues to regard the island as part of its territory and reserves the right to use force to bring it back under its control _ Washington's main reason for continuing to sell it arms.
On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the planned weapons sale was a "crude interference in China's internal affairs" and would hurt its national security.
Beijing had already suspended military exchange visits with the United States and threatened unprecedented sanctions against U.S. defense companies over the deal. Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, said it was the strongest such reaction from China in recent years.
But Taiwanese analysts said the island's rapidly improving relations with the mainland were not likely to be a victim of the Chinese anger.
"Beijing knows that if it tries to spoil cross-strait relations, it will hurt the standing of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou," said international relations specialist George Tsai of Taipei-based Chinese Culture University. "If Ma's domestic standing is weakened, it will only strain cross-strait relations further."
Since Ma took office in May 2008, he has jettisoned his predecessor's pro-independence policies, reducing cross-strait tensions to their lowest level in 60 years. Besides agreeing to the launching of regular air and maritime services across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait, he is also pushing a partial free trade agreement that will allow the free flow of many goods, services and capital between the sides. Negotiations on the deal opened last week in Beijing.
Wang Kao-cheng of Taipei-based Tamkang University said these talks are unlikely to be affected.
"Despite the arms deal, Taiwan is continuing on the path of reconciliation with China," he said. "Beijing has also made it clear that it will push cross-strait relations forward as much as possible when Ma is still in power."
However, in Beijing, Yu Wanli, a professor from the Center for International and Strategic Studies of Peking University, said the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan could hurt cross-strait relations, because it gave impetus to supporters of formal independence for the island.
"The arms sale to Taiwan by the U.S. sends the wrong signal to Taiwan, that is, that America supports the democratic system in Taiwan which may eventually lead to independence," Yu said. He added that he believed a big proportion of Taiwanese were independence supporters.
Niu Jun, a Peking University international relations specialist, said the U.S. arms sale to Taiwan will have little effect on the military balance between the sides, which most analysts see as now trending strongly in China's favor.
"Ultimately, the mainland will have advantages in terms of military strength" over Taiwan, Niu said.
Tamkang University's Wang agreed.
"The package will redress the imbalance but not in a significant way," Wang said. "Taiwan's air force will face a serious gap in the long term if they need to retire aging planes without F-16 fighter jet replacements."
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Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this story from Beijing.


Updated : 2021-05-09 14:52 GMT+08:00