China concerned over Taiwan content in U.S. defense bill

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday expressed concern that an annual U.S. defense policy bill suggests a plan to conduct high-level military exchanges with Taiwan, the self-governed island that Beijing sees as a breakaway province.

The $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act will likely come up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, and the Senate next week.

Part of the bill “expresses the sense of Congress that (the U.S. Department of Defense) should conduct a program of senior military exchanges between the United States and Taiwan”.

China has “serious concerns” about the bill and urges the United States to “scrupulously abide” by the one-China policy so as to not damage broader U.S.-China relations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

“China firmly opposes the United States and Taiwan carrying out any form of official contact or military exchange,” Geng told reporters at a regular press briefing.

China calls on all countries to recognize only one China, and its Beijing-based government, and not recognize Taiwan as a separate state.

Nevertheless, Taiwan and the United States have close security ties, which infuriates Beijing.

China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office this year, as it suspects she will push for formal independence.

Tsai, who heads the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, says she wants to maintain the status quo with China and is committed to ensuring peace.

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a civil war with the Communists. China has also never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel