US, China clash over Taiwan as defense talks resume
By Dan De Luce, AFPHANOI -- China and the United States on Monday clashed over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as top defence officials struggled to shore up fragile military relations.
October 13, 2010, 9:21 am TWN
China pinpointed the weapons sales to Taiwan as the main hurdle to improving military ties with the United States, while U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced frustration at Beijing's stance.
The difference of opinion emerged after Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie held talks with Gates in Hanoi, the first such meeting between the two nation's defense chiefs in almost a year.
Despite discord over Taiwan as well as China's stance on maritime disputes in the region, Liang confirmed an invitation to Gates to visit Beijing in coming months, and the Pentagon chief accepted, officials said.
China had rebuffed Gates earlier this year and called off a tentative visit in June, as part of a 10-month suspension in military relations.
China broke off defense ties with the United States in January over American plans to sell Taiwan more than six billion dollars' worth of arms, including Blackhawk helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine sweepers.
"The biggest obstacle in defense relations between the U.S. and China is U.S. arms sales to Taiwan," Guan You Fei, deputy head of external relations with China's defense ministry, told a news conference after the meeting.
The two defense chiefs met ahead of an Asia-wide security forum being held in the Vietnamese capital on Tuesday, with China's expanding military power and assertive stance in maritime disputes raising anxiety across the region.
Gates also indicated earlier that Washington opposes Beijing's approach to territorial questions in the South China Sea, saying the United States backed a multilateral solution favored by Vietnam and others in the region.
After the 30-minute meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Gates told reporters that there was no reason for the Taiwan arms sales to derail a much needed security dialogue, as the U.S. military had little to do with the policy.
"The reality is the secretary of defense does not make decisions with respect to Taiwan arms sales. It is fundamentally a political decision, by Congress and political leaders," he said.
"And why the military relationship should be held hostage to what is essentially a political decision, seems to me curious. And I believe it should not be.
"If there is a discussion to be had, it is at the political level," he said.