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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

China and America -- Blowing hot and cold

February 2, 2010

What to make of the latest row between China and America over Taiwan?
The Economist (UK)
February 2, 2010

IS IT a crisis or just (show) business as usual?
With China and America, it can be hard to tell.
Almost immediately after the United States said
that it intended to sell more than $6
billion-worth of arms to Taiwan, the Chinese went
into a spin. They summoned the American
ambassador to denounce this interference in
China’s "internal affairs" (Taiwan is part of the
mainland, says the government in Beijing),
threatened to cut off military ties with the
United States and said they would impose
sanctions on American firms involved in the Taiwan deal.

None of this looks good for the world’s most
consequential relationship. From global warming
to the sickly world economy to stopping nuclear
proliferation in North Korea and Iran,
co-operation between the established superpower
and the rising one is vital to world stability.
Why should either want to jeopardise this relationship?

That question has produced several theories. One
is that China’s spritely economy is making it
less afraid of conflict with a tiring America,
especially when it thinks that “core” interests
such as its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan or
Tibet are at stake. The other is that America
timed the Taiwan arms sale in part to punish
China -- for its shabby treatment of Barack Obama
during last November’s presidential visit to
Beijing, for its foot-dragging at December’s
Copenhagen climate summit and for its reluctance
to support new United Nations sanctions on Iran.
Of course, neither theory excludes the other and
bits of both may be true. But a third possibility
is that there is in fact less to this 'crisis" than meets the eye.

America is obliged under the Taiwan Relations Act
of 1979 to provide the island with the arms it
needs to defend itself. America and China both
knew that the United States would announce the
package at some time and that China would
vehemently oppose it, as it always does. The
package includes some sophisticated weapons, such
as Black Hawk and Apache helicopters and Harpoon
missiles, but it does not include F-16 fighters
that the Taiwanese would dearly like. As to the
timing, says a senior administration official,
“this is one of those issues where the timing is
never right." It certainly would not have been
clever to announce the sale immediately before or
after last year’s presidential goodwill visit to China.

If America’s announcement was expected, so was
the indignant Chinese response. Denunciation and
the cancellation of some military-co-operation
meetings is in keeping with previous Chinese
reactions. A new element this time was the public
threat of Chinese sanctions against American
firms involved in the Taiwan deal, but most of
these have little or no business in China. One
big exception is Boeing, which is huge in China.
But for that reason it is unlikely that the
Chinese will follow up on this particular threat.

If the Taiwan weapons spat blows over, American
officials will hail what they nowadays call the
more "mature" relationship they have nurtured
with China during Mr Obama’s first year. But many
tests lie ahead. Some are mainly symbolic, such
as a forthcoming meeting between Mr Obama and
Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, which
the Americans postponed last year to prevent it
souring the president’s China trip. Others are
more concrete, such as China’s reluctance to go
along with new sanctions on Iran or to respond to
America’s pleas to revalue the yuan. A
world-shaking falling-out between China and
America is always possible. But the falling-out
over the Taiwan arms package is probably not it.
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