At a time when Chinese officials and non-Governmental analysts have been highly confused by the unusually strong line taken by Mrs.Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, in support of Internet freedom in the wake of Google’s threat to stop censoring its search engine in China and its protests over alleged Chinese web snooping into the Google mail accounts of Chinese political dissidents and Tibetan and Uighur nationalists, they have been in for another shock by the decision of the administration of President Barack Obama to notify the Congress on January 29,2010, of its plans to sell a fresh package of arms to Taiwan in disregard of Chinese protests and sensitivities on the subject.
2. Mrs.Clinton’s strong statement on the question of Internet freedom has already given rise to Chinese allegations of the US reverting to its past policy of “information imperialism” and adopting double standards with regard to restrictions on the Internet in the interest of national security. As a result, earlier speculation and even expectations that the Chinese authorities and Google could reach a face-saving compromise to facilitate the continued operation of the Google in the Chinese market have been belied so far.
3. The continuing controversy over the Google was till now viewed by the Chinese authorities as an aberration and not as reflective of any change of policy by the Obama Administration towards China. However, the Administration’s notification to the Congress of its plan to sell to Taiwan US $ 6.4 billion worth of Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and minesweepers has come as a second surprise to Beijing. It is learnt that the Chinese authorities were aware for some time that the sale of this package was under the consideration of the Obama Administration, but were confident that after the smooth visit of Mr.Obama to China in November last and the importance attached by him to China’s role as an Asian power with stakes even in South Asia, he will not go ahead with the sale.
4. His surprise (to the Chinese) decision to go ahead with the sale has evoked strong resentment in official circles and has been strongly criticized by non-governmental analysts, who have accused him of being insincere and projected his decision as a wake-up call to China about the real Obama.
5.In its strong reaction within 24 hours of the notification, the Chinese Government has suspended (not cancelled) all military exchanges with the US. Mr.Qian Lihua, Director of the Foreign Affairs office of the Chinese Defence Ministry, lodged a strong protest with the US Defence Attache in Beijing. A press release issued by his office on the protest said: “The Chinese military expresses grave indignation and strongly condemns such a move to grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s national security interests. The Taiwan issue is related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and concerns China’s core interests. The US arms sales to Taiwan gravely violates the three joint communiques between China and the United States, and seriously endangers China’s national security and harms China’s reunification course. Such a move also constitutes severe violation of the agreements reached by the top leaders of both sides on the China-US relations in the new situation. It runs counter to the principles of the joint statement issued during US President Barack Obama’s visit to China in November last year.”
6. A strong commentary on the US notification by the “China Daily” published on January 31,2010, said: “ The latest US arms sale to Taiwan has once again come up as a wake-up call. It cannot but let us be clear that in a world where the law of the jungle still prevails, China, like any other developing country, cannot remain aloof from bullies. It is painful to come to such reality. The feeling gripped us when our embassy was bombed in Belgrade; when our ace pilot was knocked down into the sea by a spy plane at door step. It is gripping us now…. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the US is still bent on integrating Taiwan into the American defense strategy in Asia, and still dreaming of using the island as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” to contain the growth of China. Forget about the pledge that “the United States does not seek to contain China” made by Mr Barack Obama when he was in Beijing just two months ago. Sincerity is subject to proof by action, not by words….China’s response, no matter how vehement, is justified. No country worthy of respect can sit idle while its national security is endangered and core interests damaged. When someone spits on you, you have to get back. Compared with the US, China is still weak, both economically and militarily. The counter-measures that China has taken — ranging from repeated protests to plans to halt military exchanges and punish US companies involved in the arms sale, may not be forceful enough to make Washington smart and mend its ways. But a message has to be sent: From now on, the US shall not expect cooperation from China on a wide range of major regional and international issues. If you don’t care about our interests, why should we care about yours? China must never waver to make sure that it means what it says.”
7. The Chinese have also been surprised by indications from Washington DC that Mr.Obama intended meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a convenient time. He had avoided meeting His Holiness during his last visit to the US which came shortly before Mr.Obama’s visit to China.
8. Chinese analysts are confused as to why this sudden change in the policies of Mr.Obama on two issues—-Taiwan and Tibet— which are among the core concerns of China. Barring what the US viewed as China’s unhelpful stance at the recent Copenhagen summit on climate and Beijing’s dispute with Google, the relations between the two countries have been proceeding smoothly and the Chinese, in Beijing’s perception, have been co-operating with the US in its efforts to stabilize the global economy.
9. Even presuming that the Obama Administration might have been unhappy over the Chinese role in Copenhagen, its dispute with Google over web snooping, its failure to exercise sufficient pressure on North Korea to return to talks on the nuclear issue and its opposition to robust sanctions against Iran, would that be sufficient cause to go ahead with the arms sale to Taiwan at the risk of serious damage to Sino-US relations? That is a question to which the Chinese have not yet been able to find an answer.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )