China warns against US weapons sales to Taiwan

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Warning Washington it was standing on the brink of a precipice, China's foreign minister said today that sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan would damage China-U.S. ties and inflame tensions with the island.

Warning Washington it was standing on the brink of a precipice, China's foreign minister said today that sales of advanced weapons to Taiwan would damage China-U.S. ties and inflame tensions with the island.

Tang Jiaxuan mentioned two systems in particular: upgraded Patriot missile batteries and warships equipped with state-of-the-art radars. Selling the weapons to Taiwan would send the island's government "a very wrong signal" and encourage those who want to keep the island separate from China, Tang said.

"It would only feed their arrogance," Tang said at a news conference on the sidelines of the Chinese legislature's annual meeting. "The U.S. side should recognise the serious dangers involved and rein in its wild horse at the brink of the precipice."

Tang's combative tone at his rare news conference appeared aimed at dissuading George W. Bush's new U.S. administration from shifting greater support to Taiwan. Beijing regards the island democracy as a renegade province to be retaken by force if necessary.

U.S. law obliges Washington to sell Taiwan sufficient weapons to defend itself. Taiwan is seeking decommissioned Kidd-class destroyers, once among the U.S. Navy's most powerful warships. It also is interested in high-tech Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, equipped with the Aegis radar system which tracks more than 200 targets.

Acquiring the warships would be a significant diplomatic and military coup for Taiwan. Washington is expected to announce a decision this month or next.

Tang did not say how China would respond to a sale. Asked whether China would station more missiles facing Taiwan or stop working with the Unites States on arms control, Tang said: "We have to look at the attitude of the U.S."

"I hope the U.S. will come to a sober-minded understanding of the serious dangers involved," he said.

Taiwan already has the PAC-2 system, an improved version of the Patriot missiles used in the Persian Gulf War. Beijing fears giving Taiwan an upgraded system now under development would blunt China's formidable missile forces threatening the island.

China and Taiwan separated amid civil war in 1949. Tang said the island would have already united with the Chinese mainland "if the United States as an outside factor had not wreaked havoc at certain times."

Tang said Taiwan would be discussed by Vice Premier Qian Qichen when he visits Washington and New York this month. Qian will be the first leader to visit since President Bush's inauguration in January.

Tang also attacked Washington's criticism of China's human rights record. U.S. plans to seek censure of China at an upcoming meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva are a "show" that would not succeed, he said.

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