China on Thursday ripped the $1.83 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan as blatant interference with its internal affairs and a threat to regional peace that will set back China-U.S. relations.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned Kaye Lee, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Beijing, to the Foreign Ministry to protest the deal that included two decommissioned Oliver Perry-class, guided-missile frigates, TOW anti-tank missiles, AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, Stinger surface-to-air missiles and other equipment.
Zheng threatened retaliation against U.S. firms involved in the deal.
"To safeguard our national interests, China has decided to take necessary measures, including imposing sanctions against the companies involved in the arms sale," Zheng said, according to China's official news agency Xinhua. "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory," Zheng said.
The State Department dismissed China's complaints and said that the sales, the first by the U.S. to Taiwan in four years, would contribute to regional stability.
"Our longstanding policy on arms sales to Taiwan has been consistent across six different U.S. administrations," said David McKeeby, a spokesman for State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
"We believe our consistent policy has contributed to the security of Taiwan, and has also supported the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the 110-mile wide body of water separating Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, McKeeby said.
The threat against U.S. companies marked a change from China's previous protests against U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. In the past, China had threatened to cut off military-to-military ties with the U.S. but left out the possibility of retaliation against U.S. firms.
The sales agreement was hailed by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Going forward, the United States must establish a more regularized process for considering requests for arms sales to Taiwan in order to avoid extended periods in which a fear of upsetting the U.S.-China relationship may harm Taiwan's defense capabilities," McCain said in a statement.
Taiwan has been separate from China since 1949, when the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island after losing the civil war to the Communists.
However, China still considers Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory, and the sovereignty issue as well as military relations with the U.S. figured again in Beijing's protests.
"The United States' wrongdoing of selling arms to Taiwan will inevitably harm China-U.S. military relations," Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said, according to China's Xinhua news agency.
Yang called on the U.S. to "cancel the announced arms sale to Taiwan, stop arms sales to Taiwan and cut U.S.-Taiwan military ties, thus preventing further damage to China-U.S. military ties and overall relations."
Yang said the sales went against previous U.S. commitments. The arrangement with Taiwan had "sabotaged" China's sovereignty and "damaged the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations," Yang said.
Taiwan also has claims to disputed islets that conflict with Chinese claims in the South China Sea and pose a challenge to the U.S. rebalance of forces to the Pacific.
In a speech earlier this week, Adm. Scott A. Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, warned that China's attempts to keep other navies out of the South China Sea posed the risk of creating a "sustained arc of increased regional tension" that would be difficult to contain.
"If even one regional navy -- or maritime forces under its command -- does not fly, sail or operate in accordance with international law, then unilateral assertiveness could become the new normal in this region, driving increased instability in multiple domains," Swift said in an address to the annual U.S. Pacific Fleet Cooperative Strategy Forum in Hawaii.
China recently has increased its warnings to ships and aircraft conducting normal operations near the artificial islands China has constructed in the South China Sea to buttress its territorial claims, Swift said.
"Ships and aircraft operating nearby these features, in accordance with international law, are subject to superfluous warnings that threaten routine commercial and military operations," Swift said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com