The Chinese government has laid out a series of protest measures it will take in response to the Obama administration's decision to sell Taiwan a new $5.8 billion package of upgrades to its aging fleet of fighter jets.
"[Chinese officials] have indicated that they're going to suspend or to cancel or postpone a series of military-to-military engagements," a senior State Department official told reporters in New York following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Monday meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Some in Washington believe that Beijing's response to the arms sales announcement has been muted, potentially because the administration did not offer Taiwan the 66 new F-16 C/D model planes it had requested. But the official warned that there could be more retaliatory measures coming. "As I indicated, it's not unusual that some of those will come over time, not announced immediately," the official said.
Yang didn't get into specifics of China's planned retaliation in his meeting with Clinton, but he did raise the issue early and often and warned of "consequences" for the U.S.-China relationship.
"[Yang] underscored that the American ambassador in Beijing had been called in. I have been called in," the State Department official said. "And [Yang] was making very serious representations to Secretary Clinton, asked the Obama administration to reconsider this decision and indicated that it would harm the trust and confidence that was established between the two sides."
Clinton responded that the United States has a security interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and that the Taiwan Relations Act provides a clear rationale for U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. She also argued to Yang that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan actually improve Chinese-Taiwanese relations.
"She underscored her view that, in fact, it was...the strong support of the United States that had provided Taiwan with the confidence to reach out in diplomacy with Beijing over the course of the last several years," the official said.
The United States and China are entering a period of increased diplomatic interactions. President Barack Obama will meet Chinese officials on the sidelines of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu and the East Asia Summit in Bali in November.
Meanwhile in Washington, critics of the administration's failure to respond favorably to Taiwan's request for 66 new F-16 fighter planes lost a crucial vote last week when the Senate failed to pass, by a 48 to 48 vote, an amendment to an unrelated trade bill by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) that would have sought to compel the administration to sell Taiwan new planes.
"It's disheartening to see so many of my colleagues who supported this deal wither in the face of political pressure and stand with a White House that worries more about irritating our biggest creditor than supporting our key allies," Cornyn said in a release after the vote.
Cornyn's office is also upset that Clinton seems not to be honoring the deal she struck with the Texas senator in July, when she promised the administration would issue a decision one way or the other on the sale of the new F-16 C/D planes to Taiwan by Oct. 1. The administration is now saying that those sales are still under consideration.
"The administration promised Sen. Cornyn a decision by Oct. 1 on C/D sales. However, State Department has indicated to us we won't be getting one by Oct. 1," a Cornyn aide told The Cable.
Although Taiwan dominated the one-hour discussion between Clinton and Yang, other issues were discussed, including Syria, North Korea, the global economy, and the South China Sea. Clinton also called on Yang to begin a dialogue with the United States on Pakistan.
"We have stated this before, but there's clearly an urgency given recent developments and also given the close relationship that exists between Pakistan and China," the State Department official said.