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Gates Hopes Potential Downturn with China Only 'Temporary'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today said he hopes that the U.S. and China quickly resolve any potential issues that emerge in the wake of a U.S. arms deal to Taiwan. Video

The U.S. last week notified Congress of the nearly $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province. The government in Beijing responded by signaling its intention to suspend military relations with the U.S., and threatened sanctions against individual American businesses involved in the deals.

“I hope that if there is a downturn it is a temporary one, and that we can get back to strengthening this relationship,” Gates said, referring to U.S-Chinese relations, during a news conference at the Pentagon today.

Gates cited a congressional act passed three decades ago that allows the U.S. to support Taiwanese defense, despite the two countries’ lack of formal diplomatic ties. He said similar arms deals exchanged under the act during the Bush Administration also angered Beijing, prompting them to cool military-to-military relations with Washington.

“The Taiwan Relations Act commits the United States to providing a certain level of support to Taiwan so that it’s able to defend itself. We went through this kind of a downturn in the last year of the Bush administration when there was an arms sale to Taiwan and we saw a reduction in the military-to-military relationships,” Gates said. “They have clearly announced that they plan to reduce those contacts now again.”

The defense secretary said he had previously emphasized to Chinese Gen. Xu Caihou, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Liberation Army, his desire to insulate military-to-military relations from the two countries’ political relationship.

“I told [Xu] that in the future, I hope that we could shield the military-to-military relationship from the political ups and downs in the relationship,” Gates said, recalling an earlier conversation with his Chinese counterpart. “I think that we have a lot to learn from each other [and] I think that stability is enhanced by contact between our military and a greater understanding of each other’s strategies.”

The latest military hardware sale to Taiwan includes Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot missiles, and radar and communications equipment. China has reportedly threatened sanctions against the defense contractors, including Boeing, involved in the deal.

Asked today to respond to the alleged sanction threat by Beijing, Gates said: “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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Robert M. Gates

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