Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan lashed out at the United States yesterday for 'inflating the arrogance' of Taiwan's separatist forces and warned that relations with the island and the US were at a critical juncture. But Mr Tang tempered his tough talk with a conciliatory note, saying Beijing might be able to work with a new Taiwan leader after the island's presidential election next week, providing there was genuine willingness to come to discuss future ties. 'What the US has done on the question of Taiwan has inflated the arrogance of the separatist forces on Taiwan,' he said on the sidelines of the annual session of National People's Congress. 'Therefore the US bears unshakeable responsibility for the tension in the Taiwan Strait.' Mr Tang repeated Beijing's position that Washington should halt weapons sales to the island. Washington has approved a request by Taiwan to buy 162 US-built Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and equipment to upgrade an ageing anti-aircraft radar system. Taiwan is also reported to be seeking naval destroyers equipped with Aegis anti-aircraft systems following an arms build-up on the mainland. 'The US has increased weapons sales to Taiwan both in qualitative and quantitative terms,' Mr Tang said, adding that China's ambassador in Washington had made a diplomatic protest over the issue in the past 24 hours. China has also frequently condemned the US for suggestions that it might include Taiwan in possible plans for a Theatre Missile Defence programme. 'At present both Sino-US relations and cross-strait relations are at a critical juncture,' he said. 'Here I would advise the Americans to recognise that what the US says and does on Taiwan would have a direct bearing on the future direction of the Sino-US relationship. It would also bear directly on peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and also the Asian-Pacific region.' But Mr Tang suggested Beijing would not prejudge the leader chosen in Taiwan's presidential vote. Although China's official media has made it clear that Beijing was concerned over the pro-independence policy of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Mr Tang suggested that even the DPP's candidate, Chen Shui-bian, could be a partner in the right circumstances. 'If the new leader of Taiwan has no inclination towards independence and is genuinely willing to start negotiations, we can consider this,' he said. China broke off talks with Taiwan after President Lee Teng-hui said relations would have to be on a 'special state-to-state' basis. Mr Tang also suggested Beijing had not introduced new conditions in its policy White Paper on Taiwan issued last month. The document states that China would use force against Taiwan if the island dragged its feet indefinitely on reunification. He said the same policy had been stated by the late leader Deng Xiaoping as early as 1984. In the past, China has routinely said it would use force only if Taiwan declared independence or a foreign power intervened. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reacted to the White Paper by saying a Chinese military move against the island would be of the 'gravest concern' to Washington. Mr Tang noted reports that France might sell a military satellite to Taiwan and warned Paris against such a move. He also took aim at what he called 'scheming politicians' in Japan for talk of a private visit to that country by Mr Lee after he steps down.