A recently announced U.S. arms deal with Taiwan immediately prompted an angry response from Beijing, which warned that there would be "serious consequences" if the deal is approved.

The deal involves a number of weapons, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles and artillery pieces. However, China appears particularly incensed over the possible transfer of 200 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles. The AIM-120C's come with an unusual condition. While Taiwanese planes will be fitted for the missile and Taiwanese pilots will train for its use, the island will only receive the weapons if it is threatened by an attack from China.

The missiles would significantly boost Taiwan's already-robust defenses against China's air force. China's People's Liberation Army currently lacks the capability to mount a sophisticated amphibious invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

A U.S. government official commenting on the sale stated that Washington did not see the missiles as compromising the military balance within the region. The Pentagon believes that China will develop a missile with capabilities similar to the AIM-120C later in the decade as part of its larger effort to modernize its armed forces.

Beijing does not regard the deal so benignly. On September 29, one day after the deal was officially announced, the Chinese government filed an official protest against the sale. Three days later Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji warned Taiwan that "(we) have made the necessary preparations to resolutely check Taiwan independence and all other separatist activities."

Although U.S.-China relations appeared to be on the mend due to the recent Senate approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) between the two states, the Taiwanese arms deal and Beijing's continued hostility to missile defense development threaten to offset this progress. On October 2 a Chinese ambassador speaking at the United Nations delivered a veiled jab at the U.S. while voicing Beijing's support for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, stating that most of the world's nations "are reluctant to see the trust and cooperation between states being jeopardized by the (sic) national missile defense system." China believes the U.S. plans to deploy a system capable of neutralizing its small nuclear arsenal of approximately twenty warheads, and has loudly and repeatedly denounced national missile defenses as a threat to global stability. China, which currently has a number of short-range missiles aimed at Taiwan, is particularly fearful that a U.S.-developed missile defense system will ultimately end up on the island. With the U.S. remaining committed to Taiwan's defense for the foreseeable future, the island will remain a sticking point between Washington and Beijing for years to come.