Chinese reactions to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan
Last Wednesday, the Obama Administration announced a $5.85 billion arms sales package to Taiwan, featuring upgrades for 145 of Taiwan’s F-16 A/B fighter jets. In this blog post, we highlight the contrast between China’s official responses to the arms deal, and reactions published in the Chinese media. The differences underscore some of the tensions and competing voices in China’s foreign policy establishment.
- In Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned US Ambassador to China Gary Locke to protest the arms sales. The acting US military attaché to China was also summoned by China’s Ministry of Defense.
- In New York, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton: “China urged the U.S. to attach great importance to China’s solemn position and take it very seriously, correct the mistake of selling weapons to Taiwan by revoking the above-mentioned wrong decision, eliminate its negative influence, stop arms sales to Taiwan and U.S.-Taiwan military contact, and take real actions to uphold the larger interest of China-U.S. relations.”
- Defense Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng said at a press briefing that “planned China-U.S. military exchanges, including high-level visits and joint exercises, will definitely be impacted.”
COMMENTARY IN THE PRESS
- The US-China relationship will suffer – such is the general sentiment voiced in several editorials and op-eds. In “A blow to Sino-US ties,” Shen Dingli of Fudan University writes that “Washington’s new arms sales to Taiwan squanders chances for further cooperation in economic and political areas,” and that “the US will have to deal with the consequences.” Sounding a similar note, Zhu Feng of Beijing University says that analysts who downplay Beijing’s reaction risk “overlook[ing] the negative consequences of China’s opposition.” Another common theme in the criticism is that the US is “putting domestic law above an international treaty,” referring respectively to the Taiwan Relations Act and the 1982 US-China communiqué, and calling for the abolishment of the TRA.
- The Global Times has expressed strong dismay that official reaction to the arms sales has thus far been limited to verbal protests. Its 9/23 editorial says “China needs to do more than condemn” so that the nation’s own political credibility is not harmed. In reference to strong reactions from Chinese netizens, the paper further argues that “the authorities should give clear responses to public opinion, rather than make people guess at its actual stance.”
- A subsequent 9/24 editorial recommends specific retaliatory measures: openly announce the suspension of military exchanges with the US, sanction American companies selling arms to Taiwan, cut imports from the US, and impose economic sanctions on Taiwan. Speculating on the possible consequences of such retaliation, the same Global Times editorial outlines reasons for China to be optimistic:
“First, arms sales rather than other issues will receive less support from Western media. For this reason, China will meet minimum criticism from the world when challenging the US. Second, the US is ready to face China’s retaliation. Considering the large scale of the arms sales this time, the possibility of the US to take countermeasures against China is slim. Third, the US usually plays a supportive role encouraging defiant provocations taken by China’s neighbors. China’s revenge against the US will receive political and diplomatic effects in the whole region without bullying others directly.”
- The above sentiments were echoed in a forum hosted by the People’s Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party:
- Peng Guangqian, PLA major general: “Those who harm China’s core interests should pay the matching price. Besides diplomatic protest, efforts are also needed in other aspects like bringing down the level of military communication and imposing sanctions.”
- Li Li, National Defense University of the PLA: The arms deal “will exert a strong negative influence on the normal development of the bilateral relationship.”
- Sun Zhe, Tsinghua University: “I think China’s reaction will be escalated gradually.” Whether or not the US decides to sell additional arms to Taiwan (i.e. the F-16 C/Ds) “will directly influence the strength of China’s actions.”