China said it had lodged an official protest with the United States following the passage of a defence spending bill that could lead to American warships visiting Taiwan. Beijing has long objected to any military assistance from Washington to the self-governed island, which it considers a breakaway province.
“China firmly opposes any forms of official exchange and military contact between the US and Taiwan,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular press briefing, adding that Beijing had made “stern representations” to Washington over the bill. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, passed by the US House of Representatives Friday, contains a section on Taiwan, which calls on Washington to provide the island’s military with increased military training and to encourage it to expand its defence spending.
An amendment to the bill directs the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress on the feasibility of re-establishing port calls between the US and Taiwanese navies. The American navy stopped such visits to Taiwan in 1979, when Washington changed diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
“We urge the US side to fully recognise that the relevant articles in the act are severely harmful,” he said. The US Congress, he added, “should not turn back the will of history lest it should harm the general interests of China-US relations”.
The bill must pass the US Senate and be signed by the president before becoming law. It comes at a sensitive moment in US-China relations, as the two sides are at odds over how to handle North Korea and President Donald Trump’s administration angered Beijing last month over its approval of $1.3 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan.
Concerns that Taiwan would become a bargaining chip were raised soon after Trump’s election when he suggested he may abandon the “One China” policy that underpins US-China relations, unless he could strike better deals with Beijing. But once in office the president unequivocally endorsed the “One China” policy during a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.