Amid all the news about the State of the Union address and the faltering health care bill, a lot of foreign policy news has slipped under the radar, including one event that could dramatically affect U.S.-China relations for the next decade. It is serious, dangerous to international relations and somewhat illogical.
Recently, the United States authorized a $6.4 billion weapon sale to Taiwan. In response, China has threatened to impose sanctions and to withdraw from any military exchanges with the United States. Even the state-run media has taken the initiative, criticizing the United States. The China Daily claimed that the arms sale “inevitably cast a long shadow on Sino-U.S. relations.”
This sudden anger over arms sales is new for China. Although the United States officially recognized the People’s Republic in the 1970s, it has continued to supply weapons to Taiwan ever since. Arms sales to Taiwan are not new. So why would China be so angry?
China has been claiming Taiwan as part of its territory for years and reunification, be it diplomatic or militaristic, has long been part of its policy. Arms sales to Taiwan present a problem for China, even if China’s military vastly outnumbers its island neighbor’s.
It’s not the why, but the how of China’s reaction that is most vexing. Sanctions on the United States? Why would a rapidly developing nation try to hurt the economy of one of its biggest trading partners? China and the United States are inextricably linked; China is major buyer of U.S. Treasury bonds, while the United States is a major client of Chinese economy. Halting free trade between the two is detrimental to both sides, and China should know that.
It is not as if U.S.-China relations are strong right now. The recent mess over Google brought China’s Internet censorship to light and angered the United States. Add in the ever-present human rights issues with China, and the two nations are not exactly super friendly.
Ultimately, it seems that China is just flexing its muscles. The global recession is over, and recovery is beginning, and China feels like the time is right to assert its power. While it took a blow in the recession, China still had a positive growth. It is an economic powerhouse, possesses one of the strongest militaries in the world and, unlike its competitors, came out of last year’s mess relatively ahead.
Since China is in a relatively good position in the world, it would seem as if it would be trying to court international powers. This move, however, only threatens international security and trade. More than likely, this is just going to earn China the ire of the other members of the United Nations and possibly some counter threats of sanctions on China.
Still, for all of China’s claims and threats, it is most likely that the deal will ultimately go through. China is a major power in the 21st century, and knows it, and that means knowing when to not spoil a good deal. The U.S.-Sino ties, both economic and political, are too important for either country to do something so stupid.
China forced its hand and came out looking impulsive. The arms sale might or might not be right, but China’s reaction to it clearly displays a naïveté and arrogance in its place within the international community. While it might not like Taiwan increasing its arms, a few more Taiwanese ships are less threatening to China than trade barriers and more enemies. So in this case, China should just let trade go through and reap the benefits of free commerce in the global community.
China’s arrogance might stem from its strength in the world, but if it keeps up this blustering foreign policy, it may do more harm in the long run. Being a rich nation doesn’t take much wisdom, but being a powerful nation does.
Nicholas Slayton is a freshman majoring in print journalism.