Before US Vice President Joe Biden even set foot on the plane that would carry him to Beijing, his roller-coaster ride of politics, pressure and intrigue began.
A letter from US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was hand-delivered to him on the airport tarmac, bluntly demanding that he refrain from discussing with Chinese officials a decision on a US arms sale to Taiwan. In China, state media were trumpeting criticism of the US debt debacle, which has dominated newspaper headlines for weeks and resulted in Standard & Poor’s downgrading of US Treasury bonds. Meanwhile, in Taiwan, reports have been circulating that the US has already made a decision not to sell F-16C/D aircraft to Taipei — all this before the official visit even got under way.
Biden is in for one heck of a toboggan ride through the land of the dragon, and he and all of his handlers better be ready for it, because Chinese officials are going to do what Chinese officials do best — ply him with good food and drink, dazzle him with new economic marvels and butter him up with praise of everything American, while at the same time attempting to squeeze the US entourage for any scrap of useful information they can get their hands on.
The US is vulnerable at the moment and everybody knows it. Chinese officials can smell it like a bull smells a cow in heat. It makes them heady with confidence, reassures them that they will not have to wait much longer to take the world back — at least, this is the way they see it, since they assume that the rightful position of the Middle Kingdom is by definition at the center of the world — from the barbaric Americans.
You can bet they will want to display their ability to lord it over the Americans, especially as a precondition for continuing to buy US Treasury bonds. Chinese state media editorials have even stated directly that the time has come for Beijing to use is holdings of US currency as a weapon to pressure the US not to sell arms to Taiwan.
So, despite the letter from Ros-Lehtinen rightly stating that Biden has no right to open his mouth about something as strategic as an arms deal with Taiwan when he is in China, he will be under enormous pressure to do just that. Moreover, a flood of media reports have implied that he intends to talk about the issue because US President Barack Obama is too easily swayed by China and that the US is likely to abandon its obligations in the Taiwan Strait.
Nothing would be sweeter for Chinese officials, especially Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who will almost certainly become the next Chinese president. If Biden were to tell Xi that the US planned to hold off on selling F-16s to Taiwan at this crucial moment, Xi would likely reciprocate by patting Biden on the head, pinching his cheek and telling him he was being a good boy, then sending him off with a promise that the US government would receive its allowance as usual. After that, Xi would be a rock star in the midst of all his Communist buddies. That would inflate his status, while the Obama administration would at least be able to rest assured that it would have enough money to continue dropping bombs on rocks in North Africa and sending troops to burn poppies in Afghanistan for a little while longer.
However, most of the Asia-Pacific region — excluding China — is hoping that Biden keeps his mouth shut about the weapons deal and that the US will continue to live up to its obligations. After all, nobody knows what China will be like when it becomes Big Brother.