US, China talk on Taiwan as jet decision nears
Washington: The United States and China held top-level talks on Taiwan, with Washington working pre-emptively to avoid a fallout as a decision nears on whether to sell fighter-jets to Taiwan.
US officials have said that they will decide by October 01 on whether to sell F-16 jets to Taiwan, a longstanding request from the self-ruling island which fears that China's rapidly growing military has gained a major edge.
Wang Yi, the top Chinese official in charge of Taiwan, on Friday met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined part of the closed-door session, a State Department official said.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Wang "stressed that the Chinese mainland has been steadfast in opposing the US arms sales to Taiwan, because it harms Sino-US ties and the peaceful development of the cross-strait relations”.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner did not give details of the talks but said it was "important that we have dialogue with China on a range of issues”, which "doesn't, certainly, preclude our strong relations with Taiwan”.
Burns took office as the State Department's number two just Thursday after his nomination was held up by Senator John Cornyn, who said he relented only after Hillary agreed to release a long-delayed report on Taiwan's arms needs.
The jets would be assembled in Cornyn's state of Texas. Congress is a stronghold of support for Taiwan, with the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week voting without dissent to urge "immediate steps" for arms sales.
China considers Taiwan -- where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949 -- to be a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The United States switched its recognition to Beijing in 1979 but Congress at the same time approved the Taiwan Relations Act which requires the United States to provide the island enough weapons for self-defence. The law states that the US administration will make the decision without consulting China.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, said he spoke about arms sales to Taiwan during a visit earlier in July to Beijing and: "Clearly, the Chinese would strongly prefer us to stop doing this."
But he said he explained to his Chinese counterpart, General Chen Bingde, that the United States has "responsibilities, and they're legal responsibilities, in my country to support the Taiwan Relations Act."
The United States last year approved USD 6.4 billion in weapons for Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters -- but not jets or submarines. China lodged a protest, suspending military ties with the United States for months.
Mullen -- the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit China since 2007 -- has strongly advocated dialogue, saying it will be crucial to avoiding miscalculations as China ramps up its military budget.
The Pentagon offered praise on Friday after China made a rare acknowledgement that it is building its first aircraft carrier.
State television on Wednesday broadcast footage of the old Soviet ship, which is being refitted in the port city of Dalian. The Defence Ministry said the carrier would be used for "scientific research, experiments and training”.
"That's a good sign to us. We've always talked about the need for transparency so that we better understand what their intentions are," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.
He said the Pentagon was already well aware of the carrier project, "but it's at least a positive sign that they are being more forthcoming."
China showed footage of the carrier at a time of high tensions on the South China Sea with Vietnam and the Philippines. China's Defence Ministry did not say when the carrier would be finished.
At a joint news conference during Mullen's visit, China's military chief Chen defended the project and noted that the United States has 11 aircraft carriers in service.
"China is a big country (and) we only have quite a number of ships, but small ships. And this is not commensurate with the status of the country of China," Chen said.