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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Living and coping with the rising power of China

February 8, 2010

By Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation
February 8, 2010

CHINA IS NO LONGER the China we used to know -- a
huge developing country with the world's largest
population that the developing West could push
around. At this juncture, China resolutely wants
to get rid of its overbearing stereotyped image -
docile and weak - which has permeated its record
for thousands of years. Like it or not, the
global community needs to understand China's
worldview and its use of power with the so-called
Chinese character, or suffer the consequences of ignorance at its own peril.

Consequently, the Obama Administration's decision
to sell US$6.4 billion worth of arms and missiles
to Taiwan has rubbed China's growing confidence
and power the wrong way at the worst possible time.

China's initial reactions were highly calculating and severe.

In weeks and months to come, Beijing might have
to bite the bullet and pay a high toll for the planned retaliatory measures.

President Barack Obama has been engaging China
with a softer approach for a little over a year.
The US administration has long declared it does
not view China as a threat but rather as a
strategy partner on the global stage, in
promoting peace and security around the world.

Somehow, this template has begun to crumble with
China rebutting strongly the arms' sale with
possible sanctions on US companies and
repercussions for their regional and international cooperation.

If Beijing decides to pick on US companies
supplying Taiwan's defence arsenal, then it would
be the first time in the annals of the East that
an Asian country has imposed sanctions against
the world's greatest power. Companies and
subcontractors including Boeing
(McDonnell-Douglas) or Sikorsky Aircraft Company,
to name but a few, could be targeted in the near
future. Of course, billions of dollars and
thousands of jobs could be on the line.

Obviously, China wants to send a strong signal to
the US that the usual tit-for-tat, as in the
past, would no longer be tolerated.

It must be noted that throughout the past year,
both sides built up extremely high expectations
for their mutual goodwill and extraordinary
developments on the diplomatic front. Unfortunately, it has not developed.

DILEMMA OF THE DALAI LAMA

Last year Obama was heavily criticised for not
meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the
Dalai Lama in October, even though every US
administration in the past two decades has done
that,following his first visit in 1979.
Furthermore, US State Secretary Hillary Clinton's
refusal to attack China openly on human rights
policy has drawn wrath and upset human rights
activists and civil society organisations.

In Beijing's latest view, Obama is actually much
weaker on the diplomatic front than was
originally perceived. Lower popularity rating and
embattling healthcare and the Republican victory
in the Senate have also shifted Obama's focus
away from diplomacy to domestic concerns.

While China would remain the centre of Asian
policy due to the middle kingdom's growing
political and economic clout, Washington's
attitude towards Beijing will certainly be toughened from now on.

As such, it would be in China's interest to draw
the line on two key vexing issues of Tibet and
Taiwan, which Beijing has accorded top priority.
After all, respect and popularity of the Dalai
Lama in the Western world has been viewed by
Beijing as a conspiracy to cover-up the promotion
of Tibet's independence, even though the
spiritual leader reiterated that has not been his objective.

The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 obligated the US
to supply weapons to the island for defensive
purposeas. Beijing had hoped that the arms sales
would gradually reduce to reflect the US and
China's new confidence and commitment.

China does not want the US meddling with its own
internal problems, especially at a time when
Beijing's top communist leaders are looking for
their own exit strategies on these issues.

The latest visit of the Dalai Lama's special
envoy to Beijing - despite the lack of
substantial progress - and improved all around
relationships with Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou, were cases in point.

China knows breaking the vicious cycle of
US-China's long standing tit-for-tat over the
Dalai Lama and Taiwan will be difficult. After
all, both the US and China must be ready to pay a
high toll for whatever the consequence of their responses cum retaliation.

With its strong economic progress - even amid the
global financial crunch, and future potential
growth - China, with its economic clout fast
superseding Japan's, wants more respect from the
international community, especially the US and the Western world.

It is not wrong to say China is a big guy in a hurry.

NEED FOR A NEW APPROACH

The ongoing US-China tension, if it persists,
would place a dark cloud over their future
cooperation both in a regional and a global
context. The effort to pressure Iran and North
Korea over nuclear non-proliferation issues
immediately comes to mind. Cooperation on climate
change and the global financial crisis would be affected.

Regional leaders fear that in months to come, the
tension could impact efforts to create a new
architecture in East Asia, in which China is
playing a leading role. The Obama Administration
has been positive towards such regional building.
Beijing is more willing than ever to have the US
join the East Asia Summit in the near future.

US-China relations are too important for global
peace and prosperity to allow them to drift
further. A new modus operandi must be found that
overcomes the stigma of Tibet and Taiwan.

Both countries need to reassess the reality of
their relationship, taking into account both
internal and external exigencies and what they
could do and achieve together, since their
leaders know full well the dire consequences of their being at loggerheads.
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