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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China's strident tone raises concerns among Western governments, analysts

February 3, 2010

By John Pomfret, Staff Writer
The Washington Post; A01
January 31, 2010

China's indignant reaction to the announcement of
U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan appears to
be in keeping with a new triumphalist attitude
from Beijing that is worrying governments and analysts across the globe.

 From the Copenhagen climate change conference to
Internet freedom to China's border with India,
China observers have noticed a tough tone
emanating from its government, its
representatives and influential analysts from its state-funded think tanks.

Calling in U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman on
Saturday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei
said the United States would be responsible for
"serious repercussions" if it did not reverse the
decision to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion worth of
helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3
missiles, minesweepers and communications gear.
The reaction came even though China has known for
months about the planned deal, U.S. officials said.

"There has been a change in China's attitude,"
said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a former senior
National Security Council official who is
currently at the Brookings Institution. "The
Chinese find with startling speed that people
have come to view them as a major global player.
And that has fed a sense of confidence."

Lieberthal said another factor in China's new
tone is a sense that after two centuries of
exploitation by the West, China is resuming its
role as one of the great nations of the world.

This new posture has befuddled Western officials
and analysts: Is it just China's tone that is
changing or are its policies changing as well?

In a case in point, one senior U.S. official
termed as unusual China's behavior at the
December climate conference, during which China
publicly reprimanded White House envoy Todd
Stern, dispatched a Foreign Ministry functionary
to an event for state leaders and fought
strenuously against fixed targets for emission cuts in the developed world.

Another issue is Internet freedom and
cybersecurity, highlighted by Google's recent
threat to leave China unless the country stops
its Web censorship. At China's request, that
topic was left off the table at this year's World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Josef
Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank and
co-chairman of the event, told Bloomberg News. The forum ends Sunday.

China dismisses concerns

Analysts say a combination of hubris and
insecurity appears to be driving China's mood. On
one hand, Beijing thinks that the relative ease
with which it skated over the global financial
crisis underscores the superiority of its system
and that China is not only rising but has arrived
on the global stage -- much faster than anyone
could have predicted. On the other, recent
uprisings in the western regions of Tibet and
Xinjiang have fed Chinese leaders' insecurity
about their one-party state. As such, any
perceived threat to their power is met with a backlash.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington
said China's tone had not changed.

"China's positions on issues like arms sales to
Taiwan and Tibet have been consistent and clear,"
Wang Baodong said, "as these issues bear on
sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are
closely related to Chinese core national interests."

The unease over China's new tone is shared by
Europeans as well. "How Should Europe Respond to
China's Strident Rise?" is the title of a new
paper from the Center for European Reform. Just
two years earlier, its author, institute director
Charles Grant, had predicted that China and the
European Union would shape the new world order.

"There is a real rethink going on about China in
Europe," Grant said in an interview from Davos.
"I don't think governments know what to do, but
they know that their policies aren't working."

U.S. officials first began noticing the new
Chinese attitude last year. Anecdotes range from the political to the personal.

At the World Economic Forum last year, Premier
Wen Jiabao lambasted the United States for its
economic mismanagement. A few weeks later,
China's central bank questioned whether the
dollar could continue to play its role as the international reserve currency.

And in another vignette, confirmed by several
sources, a senior U.S. official involved in the
economy hosted his Chinese counterpart, who then
made a series of disparaging remarks about the
bureau that the American ran. Later that night,
the two were to dine at the American's house. The
Chinese representatives called ahead, asking what
was for dinner. They were informed that it was
fish. "The director doesn't eat fish," one of
them told his American interlocutor. "He wants
steak. He says fish makes you weak." The menu was changed.

Tone with Europe, India

With Europe and India, China's strident tone has
been even more apparent. In autumn 2008, China
canceled a summit with the European Union after
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the
exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. Before
that, it had denounced German Chancellor Angela
Merkel over her contacts with the Tibetan
spiritual leader. And in recent weeks, it has
engaged in a heated exchange with British
officials over its moves to block a broader
agreement at the climate conference.

At the Chinese Embassy, Wang differed on the
climate issue. "China is strongly behind the idea
of meeting the issue of climate change," he said,
"but at the same time we think that there are
some people who want to confuse the situation,
and we feel the need to try to let the rest of
the world know our position clearly."

China also suspended ties with Denmark after its
prime minister met the Dalai Lama and resumed
them only after the Danish government issued a
statement in December saying it would oppose
Tibetan independence and consider Beijing's reaction before inviting him again.

"The Europeans have competed to be China's
favored friend," Grant said, "but then they get
put in the doghouse one by one."

China's newfound toughness also played out in a
renewed dispute with India over Beijing's claims
to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which
borders Tibet. Last summer, China blocked the
Asian Development Bank from making a $60 million
loan for infrastructure improvements in the
state. India then moved to fund the projects
itself, prompting China to send more troops to the border.

David Finkelstein, a former U.S. Army officer at
the Defense Intelligence Agency who now runs the
China program at the Center for Naval Analyses,
said the new tone underscores a shift in China.
"On the external front," he said, "we will likely
see a China that is more willing than in the past
to proactively shape the external environment and
international order rather than passively react to it."

An example would be events that unfolded in
December when 22 Chinese Muslims showed up in
Cambodia and requested political asylum. China
wanted to hold seven of them on suspicion of
participating in anti-Chinese riots in the Xinjiang region in July.

Under intense pressure from Beijing, Cambodia
sent the group home, despite protests from the
United States. Two days after the group was
repatriated, China signed 14 deals with Cambodia worth about $1 billion.

What the future holds

Whether this new bluster from Beijing presages
tougher policies and actions in areas of direct
concern to the United States is a key question,
Lieberthal said. What China does after the United
States sells Taiwan the weapons may provide some clues.

Even before the United States announced its plans
Friday, at least six senior Chinese officials,
including officers from the People's Liberation
Army, had warned Washington against the sale.

Once the deal was announced, China's Defense
Ministry said it was suspending a portion of the
recently resumed military relations with the
United States. China also announced that it would
sanction the U.S. companies involved in the sale.

What happens next will be crucial. China quietly
sanctioned several U.S. companies for
participating in such weapons sales in the past.
However, it would mark a major change if China
makes the list public and includes, for example,
Boeing, which sells billions of dollars worth of airplanes to China each year.

He, the vice foreign minister, warned that the
sales would also affect China's cooperation with
the United States on regional issues. Does that
mean China will continue to block Western efforts
to tighten sanctions on Iran? Bonnie S. Glaser, a
China security analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, said the answer will probably come soon.

France takes over the presidency of the U.N.
Security Council on Monday and is expected to
push for a rapid move in that direction.
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