China paper warns U.S. of price for Taiwan arms sales

BEIJING, Sept 22 Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:18pm EDT

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BEIJING, Sept 22 (Reuters) - China's top newspaper warned the United States on Thursday that it will pay for selling arms to Taiwan through less cooperation from Beijing, continuing a drumbeat of angry words that appears likely to unsettle, yet not derail, relations with Washington.

China's Foreign Ministry has already denounced the Obama administration's confirmation to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday that it planned a $5.3 billion upgrade of Taiwan's F-16 fighter fleet, warning that the move would damage Sino-American military and security links.

The People's Daily, the main paper of China's ruling Communist Party, added to the condemnation and warned the United States it has a big economic stake in ties with China.

"Every time the U.S. plans to sell weapons on a large scale to Taiwan, it unavoidably subjects China-U.S. relations to torment and bilateral cooperation is damaged," said a commentary in the paper.

"We've never placed our hopes in the United States putting trust ahead of interests in its national agenda. But even from the viewpoint of national interests, insisting on selling arms to Taiwan is by no means a wise step by the U.S."

China considers self-governed Taiwan an illegitimate breakaway from mainland rule, and opposes U.S. arms sales to the island on the grounds they sabotage Beijing's plans for reunification. Washington says it wants Beijing and Taipei to decide their future peacefully, and is obliged by U.S. law to help Taiwan defend itself.

Despite Beijing's ire, the tensions appear unlikely to match last year's, when Chinese anger over an earlier U.S. arms offer to Taiwan added to several disputes that roiled relations with Washington for many months.

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

This year, however, both sides have attempted to keep relations on a steadier path ahead of 2012, when Obama faces re-lection and China's Communist Party undergoes a leadership handover.

"IRRESPONSIBLE AND WANTON"

The People's Daily said the Obama administration's decision would nonetheless carry a price in ties with China.

"American politicians are totally mistaken if they believe they can, on the one hand, demand that China behave as a responsible great power and cooperate with the United States on this and that issue, while on the other hand irresponsibly and wantonly damaging China's core interests," said the paper.

"Have these American politicians considered which weighs more -- selling weapons to Taiwan or China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation?" the commentary asked.

The upgrade of Taiwan's 145 F-16s will give them much the same capabilities as late-model F-16 C/Ds that Taiwan has sought for five years without success, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon said Taiwan had also requested 176 state-of-the-art Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar sets, as well as advanced air-to-air missiles, laser- and GPS-guided bombs and other weapons systems for its F-16 fleet.

All together, the potential sales total $5.85 billion.

In Taipei, Taiwan's defence ministry said the F-16 upgrade will contribute to regional peace by improving its defence capability in the face of what it called a continued threat from China. Taiwan would keep pressing for new F-16s, the ministry said in a statement.

The Obama administration is required by law to notify Congress of any proposed major arms sale. The sale may go ahead after 30 days unless Congress enacts a joint resolution blocking it in the allotted time.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, has proposed mandating the sale of at least 66 new F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan as an amendment to legislation now being considered on the Senate floor. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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