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US-China Resume Military Ties, Suspended Over Taiwan Arms Sale

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BEIJING — China and the U.S. resumed military-to-military consultations Friday after a five-month suspension over American arms sales to Taiwan, but a top Chinese officer warned the exchanges remain in a "difficult period."

China froze military exchanges in October to register its anger over a $6.5 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan that included advanced weaponry such as Patriot missiles and Apache attack helicopters. China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan is part of its territory, complained that the sale interfered with its internal affairs.

Contacts resumed with talks led by David Sedney, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, and Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, the Chinese Defense Ministry's head of foreign affairs.

Qian was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying that contacts would remain tenuous unless the U.S. removes remaining obstacles to improvement.

"China-U.S. military relations still stay at a difficult period. We expect the U.S. side to take concrete measures for the resumption and development of our military ties," it quoted Qian as saying.

Beijing retaliated for the U.S. arms sale by canceling a visit to the U.S. by a senior Chinese general and port calls by naval vessels. It also indefinitely postponed meetings on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Qian offered no timeline for the resumption of those exchanges. The stumbling blocks include weapons sales to Taiwan and U.S. legislative restrictions on bilateral military contacts, according to another officer cited by Xinhua, Rear Admiral Yang Yi of the National Defense University's Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Frankly speaking, it will take a long time to restore our military exchanges as not a single obstacle in military ties has been removed so far," it quoted Qian as saying.

Xinhua said the talks covered bilateral maritime security, international and regional security, and anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.

Writing in the official English-language China Daily newspaper, Yang said Beijing would continue to protest arms sales to Taiwan and rejected U.S. criticisms over a lack of transparency in China's military buildup.

Nearly 20 years of annual double-digit percentage increases in China's defense budget have raised concerns from the U.S. and China's neighbors, although Beijing says any worries are unfounded. That figure will be closely scrutinized when the national legislature begins its annual session next month.

Yang also contended that improved relations between Taiwan and China over recent months have "deprived the U.S. of any excuses for continued arms sales to the island."

Taiwan and China separated amid civil war in 1949, but decades of hostility have eased recently amid growing economic and civil links. The rapprochement has accelerated since the election last year of China-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, although Ma has made clear his intention to maintain a robust military and rejects Beijing's calls for unification talks.

The U.S. Embassy said Sedney would brief reporters on the meetings before leaving Beijing for Seoul on Saturday.