China has summoned a senior US diplomat and threatened sanctions in angry response to the sale of military equipment by Washington to Taipei, the first such deal between the two sides since 2011.
The US$1.8 billion (S$2.5 billion) contract comes amid concerns over China's land reclamation in contested waters in the South China Sea and over stability in the Taiwan Strait, with the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tipped to wrest power at Taiwan's presidential election next month.
Foreign Vice-Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned US charge d'affaires Kaye Lee on Wednesday and "made solemn representations" over the deal announced that day. "To safeguard our national interests, China has decided to take necessary measures, including imposing sanctions against the companies involved in the arms sale," he said.
He also urged the US to abide by its commitment in their three joint communiques, revoke the planned arms sale and cease military contact with Taiwan,which China considers as a renegade province that it is prepared to recover by force.
Under the 1982 joint communique, the US promised to gradually reduce, and eventually stop, all arms sales to Taiwan, though there is no specified timeline.
The Chinese defence ministry said yesterday that Taiwan is a "core interest" for the country and the arms sale would damage China's national sovereignty and security.
The foreign ministry said the government and Chinese companies would not cooperate with US firms involved in the arms deal.
But US officials say the sale was in keeping with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act - which commits the US to provide sufficient weapons to maintain Taiwan's ability to defend itself - and there was no change in the US' "one China" policy.
Mr J. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said the US obligation "should not be subject to political considerations".
The US State Department had informed the Congress on Wednesday that it intended to sell two Perry-class frigates, Javelin anti-tank missiles, TOW 2B anti-tank missiles, AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles and a range of other military equipment to Taiwan.
US arms sales to Taiwan have often triggered strong condemnation in China, but made little impact on cross-strait and Sino-US ties.There are mixed views in China on the impact of the latest deal on these ties.
A commentary by Xinhua news agency yesterday said it would disrupt cross-strait ties that "have reached an unprecedented level since 1949", with the historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou - from the China-friendly Kuomintang - in Singapore last month.
"It will only embolden the separatists on the island to take reckless steps to damage peace and stability across the Strait," it added.
National Defence University professor Li Li told local media yesterday that the deal would do little to alter the asymmetry between Chinese and Taiwanese militaries.
Beijing-based military analyst Wang Xiangsui said China's reaction may not escalate, as the US has shown restraint by not including the F-16 fighter jets, top of Taiwan's wishlist, in the arms deal.
"Also, by announcing the arms deal before the Kuomintang rule ends, the US avoids sending the signal that it backs the DPP, which could provoke a stronger Chinese reaction," he told The Straits Times.