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Analysis: Tibet, Taiwan, Google sour U.S.-China ties

February 3, 2010

By Jaime FlorCruz
CNN
February 3, 2010

Beijing, China (CNN) -- Challenge China's
position on Taiwan and watch China go ballistic.
When the United States last week announced plans
to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan, China fired
back with vitriolic anger. It's a "crude
interference in China's domestic affairs," said
He Yafei, vice minister of foreign affairs. It
could "lead to repercussions that neither side
wishes to see," he said. The same day, China
suspended plans for military exchanges and
threatened sanctions on American companies involved in the arms sales.

China's angry response comes as no surprise. "The
Chinese take this seriously," said Jim McGregor,
senior adviser at APCO, a U.S. consulting
company. "We're in a political season in China.
People are jockeying for positions for a change
in leadership a few years down the road, so I
guess it makes the Taiwan issue even more sensitive."

China considers Taiwan as a mere renegade
province. Beijing said it seeks Taiwan's
"peaceful reunification" with the mainland, but
it has also hinted readiness to resort to
military means if Taiwan declares independence.
Beijing considers Taiwan a "core interest" issue that is non-negotiable.

Washington said it plans to sell a package of
weapons that include Black Hawk helicopters,
anti-missile missiles, mine-hunting ships and a
command and control enhancement system.

Estimated price tag: $6.4 billion. Under the
Taiwan Relations Act, passed by the U.S. Congress
in 1979, Washington is obligated to help Taiwan,
its longtime ally, to defend itself. The State
Department said the latest round of sales is a
way to guarantee security and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Some America-watchers believe the arms sale is ill-conceived.

"It comes at a point when you have the best
mainland-Taiwan relations, with opening of direct
transport links across the Strait, and the two
sides working for a possible peace treaty. There
is no hostility, no threat from Beijing to use
force and no Taiwanese eagerness to provoke the
mainland. This is not a wise choice in terms of
strategy," said Wenran Jiang, a political science
professor at University of Alberta in Canada.

There was never a G2 to speak of.

--Peking University professor Zha Daojiong on U.S.-China ties

Other analysts warn it may just backfire. Victor
Gao, director of Center for China and
Globalization, a Chinese think tank, says: "If
the United States think the Taiwan issue is just
a Taiwan issue, that it can do whatever it wants
regarding Taiwan without triggering backlashes from China, it's dead wrong."

In recent months, China and the U.S. have been at
loggerheads over a slew of prickly issues: the
U.S. trade deficit with China; U.S. pressure to
revalue China's currency; and U.S. criticism of
China's human rights record, its ethnic and
religious policies in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In recent weeks, Washington and Beijing have
traded sharp words over China's Internet policy
after the search engine company Google threatened
to pull out of China, citing problems of censorship and hacking attacks.

In the coming months, President Barack Obama is
expected to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled
Tibetan spiritual leader when he visits
Washington. The Nobel Peace prize laureate said
he advocates genuine autonomy for Tibetans, not
Tibet independence. Beijing regards him as not
just a religious figure but a dangerous
"separatist," a politician who wishes to sever Tibet from China.

When asked how China would react to such a
meeting, Zhu Weiqun, a senior Communist Party
leader in charge of ethnic and religious affairs,
warned of serious damage. "It will seriously
undermine the Sino-U.S. political relations," he
said. "We will take corresponding action to make
relevant countries see their mistakes."

Such seemingly unrelated events feed into China's
paranoia, analysts say. "Beijing will connect the
dots of recent events," said Jiang, the
University of Alberta professor. "The U.S.
government criticisms on Internet freedom in
China and now the arms sale to Taiwan -- [China]
will use these events as proof that the Obama
administration is now pursuing a hard-line
strategy against China. So Beijing feels it must
respond with much stronger measures."

It's not clear how else Beijing will match its
bark with bite. Its threat to impose
unprecedented sanctions on American companies
could hurt the business of aerospace giants like
Boeing. That will send a bad signal to the
American business community in China, which is
already complaining about creeping Chinese protectionism at its expense.

"It's a tough business climate here right now,"
said APCO's McGregor, who once served as chairman
of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.
"This is just one of a number of things that are
troublesome." China also is now the biggest
holder of U.S. treasury debt. "China may also
consider buying less U.S. treasury bonds, which
will make the U.S. economic recovery much more painful," Gao said.

The souring of relations comes only three months
after Obama visited China during which the two
sides issued a joint statement that signaled
cordial and steady ties. Some political analysts
at that time spoke of "G2," wondering if much of
the global issues will now have to be discussed
and solved by the two big economic powers.

"There was too much of a hype about sea change in
Sino-American relations," says Peking University
professor Zha Daojiong. "There was never a G2 to
speak of. Sino-American relations are going to be
shaped by the same sort of issues that have
troubled the two governments in the past."

But Beijing's retaliation could hurt more by inaction.

As a rising power and a permanent member of the
U.N. Security Council, the U.S. needs China's
acquiescence, if not cooperation, to help resolve
intractable global issues: the financial crisis,
terrorism, cross-border crimes, climate change,
and North Korea and Iran. In the U.S. standoff
with Iran, for example, Washington has been
leading a move to impose additional U.N.
sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities.

China, which relies on Iran for supply of oil and
natural gas, has typically resisted sanctions,
saying they are counterproductive. U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton last week met her
Chinese counterpart in Paris to lobby for China's
crucial support for that. So far, China remains noncommittal.
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