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Insight: Looming U.S. decision on Taiwan arms risks China rift

Sep 15, 2011, 10:04 p.m.

The Washington Times said Obama had decided against including the new jets but would give the island a $4.2 billion arms package.

"The public isn't concerned about what specifically you sell to Taiwan. It feels that selling the weapons in itself shows the United States lacks respect for China," Wu said.

"It's like a friend slapping another friend on the face. It doesn't matter whether you slap two times or three times."

Cornyn, who is from Texas, where Lockheed Martin Corp manufactures the fighter jets, noted that Taipei was also a U.S. friend.

"This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S."

BACK TO 2010?

Last year, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were among the disputes that ignited tensions with China, where the condemnation of the Obama administration's decision was accompanied by a chorus of public demands, including from military officers, that China should use its growing strength to punish Washington.

Since then, the government has sought to rein in People's Liberation Army pundits from speaking strongly about sensitive issues. But Chinese media and Internet have continued to call for a tough response on any new U.S. arms offers to Taiwan.

Backed by that public anger, the Chinese government could turn an aggressive face to the Obama administration. But most observers said they expect China to hold back from retaliatory steps that could spook markets or overshadow meetings between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at summits this year.

"I think the leadership is intent on keeping the relationship steady despite the arms sales," Linda Jakobson, the East Asia Program Director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, said of China.

"I think there has been a policy decision to keep the relationship stable, but when it comes to how to avoid a downturn despite the arms sale, I think there is a diversity of views of how to do this."

(Editing by Brian Rhoads and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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