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Why China's response to US arms sales to Taiwan is so muted

In an effort to maintain ties with the US ahead of a major shift in China's leadership, China's response on a multimillion dollar arms sale to Taiwan, a normally divisive subject, appears muted.

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A week after Washington announced a multimillion dollar arms sale to Taiwan, the Chinese government appears unwilling to do much more about it than issue fierce rhetorical protests, according to political analysts here, in an effort to not disrupt ties with the US ahead of a major shift in China's leadership.

Two previous US arms deals with the island that Beijing regards as a renegade province seriously disrupted Sino-US military relations; this time seems to be different.

“The government would hate to see a deterioration in relations with the US at the moment,” says Shi Yinhong, an expert on US affairs at Renmin university in Beijing. “They won’t make more than a minimum response.”

A senior US official said Monday he had been told by the Chinese that “some activities, as part of the military-to-military program, will be postponed, rescheduled or canceled” in retaliation for the $5.8 billion arms sale.

Sources familiar with Beijing’s decision say that, so far, the government has postponed only three events: a planned US-Chinese anti-piracy naval exercise, an upcoming trip to Beijing by Adm. Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, and a tour of China by a US marching band.

This is a far cry from the 10 month total break in military relations between China and the US that Beijing decreed in January 2010 to protest a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. Two years earlier, Beijing also cut off military ties for five months in response to another arms sale by the Bush administration. Beijing has not publicly announced its decision.

US officials insist they are obliged by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to supply Taipei with defensive weapons.

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