BEIJING, China — China has reacted angrily to U.S. plans to sell high tech radar systems to Taiwan, denouncing the move as being against Washington’s commitment to Beijing’s “one-China” policy.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday it planned to sell Taiwan long-range early warning radar worth almost $2 billion in a deal that has already been five years in the making.
The sale was always likely to infuriate China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must eventually reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Beijing has said that any move towards independence for the island would be met militarily and on Thursday criticized the U.S. radar sale as sending the wrong signal to Taiwan independence seekers.
“We have always opposed U.S. sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters.
“Especially under the current complicated and sensitive situation across the Taiwan Strait, we ask the United States to be faithful to what it says and abide by its promises and not send the wrong signal to Taiwan’s independence (seekers).”
Taiwan Strait tensions have been ratcheting up in the aftermath of a disputed poll last month, which saw President Chen Shui-bian winning a second term by a slim 30,000 votes.
Chen, who is viewed by Beijing as being a proponent for the island’s independence, on Monday said his narrow re-election was a mandate to press toward formal independence despite the risk of conflict with China.
Chen has vowed to proceed with plans to write a new constitution, developing Taiwan as an “independent, sovereign country” despite the risk of war with China, he said in an interview with the Washington Post. (Chen presses independence)
An election recount is likely with opposition supporters and leaders vowing to continue protests against the result, which they claim was marred by suspicious circumstances including the assassination attempt on Chen and Vice President Annette Lu.
The United States has said it will defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack, but in December U.S. President George W. Bush issued a warning to both Beijing and Taipei not to upset the status quo after Chen called for the island’s first-ever referendum.
U.S. officials say there was no link to the fallout from the March 20 poll to the radar sale, arguing the deal had been years in the making.
“Nothing should be read into the timing of this announcement,” said Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman.
The State Department said Thursday the sale the radar system is not inconsistent with the United States’ “one China” policy and will not affect the military balance in the region.
The move “is inherently defensive and that its sole purpose is to provide Taiwan with the ability to detect and react to missile attacks,” Deputy State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said.
“We believe it will improve the overall security and defensive capability of Taiwan,” Ereli said.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. pledges to sell Taiwan arms to defend it from attack.
The ground-based ultra high frequency radars will boost Taiwan’s ability to “identify and detect ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and air-breathing target threats,” the Pentagon said in a notice to Congress on Wednesday.
Air-breathing target threats are weapons systems that operate in the Earth’s atmosphere, as opposed to space.
The deal has been in the works since 1999, when it was approved in principle by former President Clinton, said Shirley Kan, an expert on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan at the research arm of the Library of Congress, according to Reuters.
Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is obligated to supply weapons powerful enough for Taiwan “to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” against a Chinese attack.