November 6, 2008 / 1:33 PM / 11 years ago

China urges U.S. to be careful on Taiwan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said Thursday the proper handling of the “Taiwan issue” was key to good relations between Beijing and the United States, and urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to halt arms sales to the self-ruled island.

“Looking at China-U.S. relations in recent years, the most sensitive issue has been Taiwan,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing Thursday.

“The proper handling of this issue is fundamental,” Qin said.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s U.S.-backed government fled to the island.

Beijing has vowed since to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but Washington, obliged by legislation to help democratic Taiwan defend itself, remains the island’s strongest backer and biggest arms supplier.

China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie denounced last month a U.S. plan to sell a $6.5 billion package of arms to Taipei, including attack helicopters and missiles, and demanded Washington halt all military exchanges with Taiwan.

Obama, who enters the White House in January 2009, expressed support for the arms sale during his election campaign.

He also said he would work with China on economic and security issues while pushing Taipei and Beijing to settle their differences peacefully.

Qin said China’s position remained unchanged.

“We hope that the U.S. side will ... abide by its promise to respect the ‘one-China policy’ and oppose Taiwan independence, and halt arms sales to Taiwan,” he said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao travels to Washington next week to attend a November 15 summit with other world leaders from the G-20 grouping of nations to discuss ways to fight a downturn in economic growth amid the growing global financial crisis.

Hu would attend bilateral meetings during the summit, but a meeting with Obama had not yet been fixed, said Qin.

“As to whether President Hu meets Obama when he attends the Washington summit, the specific arrangements is under discussion right now,” Qin said.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Paul Tait and Jerry Norton

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