China’s relations with the U.S. are going through a nervous-making patch. Beijing has warned that any meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama would be taken as damaging the bilateral relationship. The two are planning to hold the meeting postponed last year so the U.S. president could first visit President Hu Jintao in November.
“If the US leader chooses this period to meet the Dalai Lama, that would damage trust and co-operation between our two countries, and how would that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?” says Zhu Weiqun, the vice-minister who is Beijing’s point person for dealing with the Tibetan leader.
At the same time, Beijing has restated its intention to impose sanctions on U.S. companies that sell arms to Taiwan, following the Obama administration’s decision to approve a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. That would hit U.S. companies like Boeing, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. China has reacted angrily to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan before – by cutting off military-to-military ties – and has in effect blacklisted some companies, but this is the first time it has threatened sanctions publicly.
This all follows on U.S. criticism of China’s performance at the Copenhagen climate change conference, Beijing’s resistance to strengthening the yuan against the U.S. dollar, and cyberattacks on the American search media firm Google that are alleged to have originated in China. On top of that Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs are feeling a backlash for selling state-owned enterprises money-losing energy derivative contracts.
Energy, like media, is an industry that the government considers sensitive and which is dominated by politically well connected firms. Taiwan, of course, is one of Beijing’s hottest political hot buttons. So is all this just China being more assertive of its national interests at a moment when Western officials are increasingly sensitive to the inexorable shift of economic power eastwards, or is it overplaying its hand as Chinese officials grow more confident about their country’s role in the world?
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