The Sino-US relationship has undergone a change recently. Although US President Barack Obama adopted a low-key approach during his visit to China last November, he was humiliated by Beijing at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. This has forced Washington to take a tougher stance, and it has used the spat between Google and China as a point of departure. Both President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) transit stopovers in the US on his way to and from Latin America and the US announcement of the arms sales package to Taiwan involve what Beijing calls its core interests, and as a result, tension between China and the US has intensified.
It is obvious that the main reason the US gave Ma such a warm reception this time was Washington’s concern that his incompetence and isolation would accelerate his surrendering to China. Washington wanted to show its support for Ma. If China did not protest, the same kind of reception would probably be given to other presidents from Taiwan in the future. If it did protest, then the Taiwanese would understand that China would be unlikely to respect Taiwan regardless of how Ma played up to Beijing.
As for the US arms sales package, Washington is simply granting a request submitted by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during its years in power — a package that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as the then-opposition, vetoed.
However, the arms deal is a watered down version that the US discussed first with Beijing, a move that diminishes the Taiwan Relations Act.
Sadly, Ma appears so pleased with himself that it is no wonder DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is frustrated by his shallowness.
Although the US is making concessions to leave some leeway for Sino-US relations, Beijing’s series of reactions and retaliatory measures do not leave much room for maneuver. The sign that there may be some leeway is the fact that the top leadership has maintained its silence.
The Chinese retaliation has taken four forms: First, planned visits by military officials between China and the US have been suspended. Second, other Sino-US military exchanges have been postponed. Third, the next round of annual defense consultations at the deputy minister level on strategic security, multilateral arms control and non-proliferation have been postponed. Fourth, US companies participating in the arms sale to Taiwan face sanctions.
The first two measures are relatively insignificant. In light of Beijing’s hostility to the US, as well as the US’ military advantage, China would benefit more from such visits and exchanges.
The third measure means an end to China’s cooperation with the US on the issue of North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear weapons development and terrorism. But Beijing is already supporting these two countries, so Washington should not have high expectations. Perhaps it is a good thing that Beijing shows its true colors.
As to the fourth point, China purchases certain military products from US companies because it cannot produce them itself. It would be good for both national security and world peace if the US stops selling these items to Beijing. Ideally, other Western nations should not sell such products to China either. Unfortunately, profit concerns make that difficult for US and other Western enterprises. Will China retaliate economically? Chaos would ensue if it lost the US market.