BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States will put improved relations with Beijing at risk if it does not stop selling arms to Taiwan, China's Foreign Minister said on Monday.
The world's two biggest economies have sought to steady ties after a year that exposed strains over human rights, Taiwan, Tibet and the gaping U.S. trade deficit with China. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the White House in January.
"The atmosphere at the moment in Sino-U.S. relations is good," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told a news conference on the sidelines of the ongoing meeting of China's parliament.
Vice President Joe Biden will visit China in the middle of this year, after which Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will go the United States at "an appropriate time", Yang said.
"Of course, it is an objective reality that China and the United States have some differences or even friction over some issues," he added. "What's important is to properly handle these differences on the basis of mutual respect."
Early last year, Beijing reacted with fury to the Obama administration plans for a new round of weapons sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China deems an illegitimate breakaway province, threatening to sanction the U.S. companies involved.
"We urge the United States to ... stop selling arms to Taiwan and take concrete actions to support the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. This is very important in upholding the overall interests of China-U.S. relations," Yang said.
The United States is obliged under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to help in the island defend itself.
While China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's promotion of closer economic ties with Beijing has reduced the risk of military conflict, the island is nonetheless seeking to shore up the balance of power against China.
Beijing has threatened to attack if the island tries to declare independence, and China has been outpacing it in its military build-up.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Alex Richardson)