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Editorial: The Challenge of China

February 11, 2010

The New York Times
February 10, 2010

Relations between the United States and China have turned chilly in
recent months as the two countries wrangle over Taiwan, Tibet, Iran
and China's continued manipulation of its currency.

President Obama is right to press Beijing to behave more responsibly
-- toward its own people and internationally. China is certainly
pushing its sense of grievance too far and underestimating the fear
and resentment its growing power is provoking in Asia and the West.

There is little hope of progress -- on the global economy, global
warming or Iran's nuclear ambitions -- unless Washington and Beijing
work harder to manage their differences.

President Obama's decision last month to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion in
helicopters, Patriot missiles and other defensive items elicited a
particularly harsh reaction: Beijing has publicly threatened to
punish American arms companies that sell to Taiwan, presumably by
cutting off access to China's huge market.

The sales could not have been a surprise to China's leadership. Mr.
Obama told President Hu Jintao of his intentions at their summit in
November in Beijing. The arms were part of a package approved by
former President George W. Bush, and Mr. Obama left out the most
controversial items: F-16 jets and diesel submarines.

Rather than encouraging Taiwan's independence, as Beijing claims, the
arms sales will give Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, the confidence
to continue his efforts to improve relations with the mainland. It is
absurd for China to think that any Taiwanese leader would not want to
bolster his country's defenses when Beijing is modernizing its
arsenal and stationing more than 1,000 missiles across the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing's threat to punish American companies is a dangerous game,
especially at a time when criticism is rampant -- around the world
and on Capitol Hill -- about China's unfair trade practices.

Beijing is also complaining bitterly about President Obama's planned
meeting this month with the Dalai Lama, warning it would "damage
trust and cooperation" between the two countries. American presidents
have regularly met with the respected Tibetan religious leader. And
China's leaders would have more chance of calming tensions in Tibet
if they sought serious compromise with the Dalai Lama, who has
advocated greater autonomy for the region, not independence, as
Beijing speciously claims.

China is alienating not only the United States but also France,
Britain and Germany by resisting tougher United Nations Security
Council sanctions on Iran. Beijing's view is frustratingly
shortsighted. Any conflict over Iran's nuclear program would drive up
oil prices and disrupt China's purchases.

The Obama administration is smart to try to line up backup suppliers
for China -- talking to Saudi Arabia and others -- as part of its bid
to get Beijing to support tougher sanctions.

The administration also was smart not to overreact when Beijing
declared that the Taiwan arms sales will "cause seriously negative
effects" on contacts and cooperation between the two countries.
Administration officials expect the Chinese to cancel some high-level
meetings. But they say they are working to ensure that midlevel
military exchanges continue and that this year's summit in Washington
with President Hu goes forward.

American officials say they see signs that Beijing doesn't want to
push things too hard. Outside experts worry that China may overplay
its hand. That would not be in anyone's interest.
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