updated 10/5/2008 4:21:49 AM ET 2008-10-05T08:21:49

Taiwan's president welcomed a U.S. decision to sell the island up to $6.5 billion in advanced weaponry, while China warned the move would damage relations between Beijing and Washington.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned U.S. diplomatic representatives to make a strong protest, according to a statement Saturday on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

"The Chinese government and the Chinese people strongly oppose and object to the U.S. government's actions, which harm Chinese interests and Sino-U.S. relations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in the statement.

The White House announced the package, which includes Apache helicopters and Patriot III missiles, in a notification to the U.S. Congress on Friday. The State Department said the deal would proceed if no lawmaker voices any objection within 30 days.

Required to defend
The United States is required by law to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons against a possible invasion by China. It remains Taiwan's most important ally and largest arms supplier, even after Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. China continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack if the island moves to make the break permanent.

Liu said the arms sale interferes with China's internal affairs and harms its national security.

Friday's move came three months after Admiral Timothy Keating, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, announced a freeze on U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Analysts speculated the decision reflected U.S. reluctance to anger China before President George W. Bush attended the Olympics in Beijing in August.

On Saturday, Taiwan's Presidential Office spokesman Wang Yu-chi thanked the U.S. and said his government wants to maintain a strong defense against any threat from China while seeking improvement in cross-strait relations.

"President Ma Ying-jeou would like to express gratitude to the U.S. for the arms package," said Wang. "A strong defense and peace in the Taiwan Strait are necessary for Taiwan's prosperity."

Since taking office in May, Ma has turned the corner on his predecessor's hard-line China policy and pushed for better mainland ties.

He has opened the island up for an increased number of mainland tourists, and facilitated regular direct flights across the 100-mile-(160-kilometer)-wide Taiwan Strait. He also has loosened restrictions on Taiwanese investment in China, and welcomed Chinese investors to the island.

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