China's military exchanges with the U.S. will suffer after Washington announced a $5.85 billion arms package for Taiwan, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday, confirming expectations that Beijing would retaliate over the sale.
High-level exchanges, joint drills, and other large-scale activities will be affected "in light of the serious damage" resulting from the sale, ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a news conference open to Chinese reporters only.
That follows a monthslong suspension of military contacts last year after the announcement of another arms deal for Taiwan. China views such exchanges as a political bargaining chip, frustrating U.S. officials who say they are important in building confidence and avoiding confrontations as China's military modernizes.
It wasn't clear whether additional retaliation would be taken.
Chinese Vice President and future leader Xi Jinping is expected to make an important visit to Washington in coming months but no specific dates have been announced. There have also been calls in the media and the military for commercial reprisals against companies involved in the arms package, but China's own fledgling commercial aerospace and other high-tech industries rely heavily on American technical expertise.
Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said U.S. military ties with Taiwan risked "undermining overall interests of bilateral relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
"We hope the U.S. government responds to China's requests ... (to) stop selling arms to Taiwan, and cease military links with Taiwan," Hong said at a daily news briefing.
China regards self-governing Taiwan, which is 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the coast of the mainland, as part of its territory. The U.S. is obligated under legislation passed by Congress in 1979 to provide the island with weapons for its self-defense.
The U.S. sparked Chinese anger by agreeing to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of 145 F-16s that the U.S. sold it in the 1990s, although it deferred a request to sell the island a more advanced version of the plane.
U.S. officials said Chinese diplomats had earlier told them China would respond by canceling or postponing some U.S.-China military exchanges.
U.S. officials declined to say Wednesday what specific programs China had canceled, saying only that Beijing had filed a protest. The Pentagon referred questions to China on any details and played down the latest flap.
"We recognize that the relationship will continue to encounter ups-and-downs, but overall we have seen an incremental improvement" in military-to-military relations between Beijing and Washington, Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Wednesday.
She noted China's agreement early this year that better communications were needed to reduce misunderstandings and to foster greater understanding.
"With an increasingly complex global and regional security environment, it is not just important to the U.S. and to China, it is also important to, and in the interest of, the entire region that the progress and momentum in the military-to-military relationship established over the last year is not interrupted or curtailed," she said.
On Tuesday, the chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Robert Willard, said that Beijing was very likely to retain the highest-level exchanges of visits because of their importance to China, allowing the two sides to continue strategic discussions.
The Obama administration has deepened ties with Beijing, and sees the military exchanges as mitigating the risk of U.S. forces tangling with China's in East Asia and the West Pacific. Since May, the U.S. joint chief of staff and his Chinese counterparts have visited each other.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have been spurred by Beijing's rapid military buildup and come amid friction over territorial disputes in the South China Sea that have prompted countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines to strengthen their military ties with the U.S.
An editorial Wednesday in the Communist Party's official People's Daily said such moves by the countries were a vestige of "Cold War thinking" that could exacerbate tensions _ combining declarations of peaceful intent with warnings not to underestimate China's determination to defend its claims.
"Some countries think all they need do is draw the support of American military strength to counter China and then do whatever they like," the newspaper said, without naming the countries.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this story from Washington.