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China unlikely to break US military dialogue: admiral
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 27, 2011

China will likely keep up a fledgling dialogue with the US military despite friction over Washington's decision to upgrade Taiwan's fleet of F-16 fighters, a top US officer said Tuesday.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, played down the potential effect of the latest US arms sale to Taiwan, saying he did not expect Beijing to cut off all military relations.

"I think that regardless of the effects of this particular round of Taiwan arms sales and disagreement between our two governments on that issue, that China will be very likely to retain the highest-level visitation that will enable us to continue those strategic level discussions," Willard told reporters in Washington.

Just before the latest arms deal was announced last week, Willard held talks with General Fan Changlong, commander of the Jinan military area, at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, the admiral said.

Taiwan arms sales came up in the discussion but the Chinese general "did not raise the issue of consequences to our military-to-military relationship," Willard said.

The admiral suggested the Chinese might delay or cancel some meetings, but not sever all contacts with the US military.

"Given that there has always been a consequence in previous times, we would anticipate that it will be again to some level," he said.

China in the past has repeatedly cut off military contacts over the Taiwan arms sales or other disputes, but Willard said the two sides have had a series of productive meetings over the last year that should help sustain a permanent security dialogue.

The talks included a meeting for the first time with both foreign ministry and military officials attending, he said.

"I think they recognize the importance (of the relationship) to them and we certainly recognize the importance" as well, he added.

The United States last Wednesday approved a $5.85 billion upgrade of Taiwan's fighter jets, but stopped short of selling new F-16s.

Taiwan and US officials said the upgrade would improve the island's defenses as it faces a rising China, which has ramped up military spending and widened its strategic edge over the self-governing territory.

Under the deal, Taiwan will get a retrofit of 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets, which will be equipped with modern weapons and radar capable of detecting China's new stealth aircraft.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has urged Washington to cancel the deal and said it had jeopardized recent improvements in military ties between the two world powers and affected relations with Taiwan.

Willard said the improvements to Taiwan's F-16 jets would help the island's defenses, but the upgrades or other US arms sales could not alter the balance of military power, which is clearly in China's favor.

"I think its important to recognize that Taiwans arms sales in and unto themselves are not going to rebalance the cross-Strait elements of combat power," he said.

"Again, when we look at the combat power from ballistic missiles to integrated air-missile defenses to fighter aircraft and much more that exist across the Strait, Taiwan arms sales are not going to ever achieve that -- a balance or rebalance of that."

Beijing still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification -- by force if necessary -- even though the island has ruled itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.

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