Just like Hong Kong, soon enough Taiwan -- the so-called Republic of China -- will be absorbed into China proper. It's a goner. The sheer force of China's gravitational pull will draw the island to the mainland. So what, exactly, is the Obama administration thinking?
In what can only be seen as a calculated insult to Beijing, the Pentagon is selling a huge arsenal to Taiwan -- according to The Australian, more than $8 billion worth -- following upon a $6 billion sale by the Bush administration in 2008. According to the New York Times, the sales include "60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot interceptor missiles, advanced Harpoon missiles that can be used against land or ship targets and two refurbished minesweepers." The Obama administration is praising its own retraint for having held off on selling advanced F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as well, though it hasn't ruled out that in the near future, either.
Not surprisingly, China is furious. The Chinese government has officially protested the sale, freezing military cooperation with the United States and announcing retaliatory measures that apparently will include sanctions against US arms makers involved in the deal, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Action against Boeing could potentially be devastating to the company, which relies on enormous sales of civilian aircraft to Chinese airlines, but it isn't clear how far China would go, say, in shifting its purchases to European-made Airbus aircraft, for instance.
Writing in the Times, Helene Cooper quotes a US official who says, stupidly:
"This was a case of making sure that there was no misunderstanding that we will act in our own national security interests. Unlike the previous administration, we did not wait until the end of our administration to go ahead with the arms sales to Taiwan. We did it early."
Leaving aside the issue of why Obama and Co. take pride in "doing it early," what conceivable US national security interest involves selling a weapons package to an island which belongs to China, and whose increasingly less nationalistic and less independence-minded leaders know will eventually revert to Chinese control? The dwindling number of fierce anti-communist relics and ultra-nationalists on the island isn't able to stop the process of detente between China and Taiwan, and the successful integration of Hong Kong into China in the 1990s provides a model for the eventual resolution of the China-Taiwan talks.
Making matters worse, after having rebuffed the Dalai Lama in 2009, when he visited Washington, it appears that President Obama will orchestrate a high-profile encounter with the Tibetan leader soon, adding insult to injury in US-China relations. (The Chinese see the Dalai Lama as leader of an independence-minded religious cult in China's western province, an analysis that isn't far wrong, and they believe that the biggest national security threats to China's west are both religion-centered: the Dalai Lama and the Uighur Muslims.)
The fact remains that China's star is rising, and America's is declining. To remain relevant, the United States is going to have to abandon its pretension to economic and military dominance in the western Pacific, southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean, which will soon become a Chinese sphere of influence. China, too, will eventually become a far more important player in central Asia and the Middle East, because of its insatiable need for oil and natural gas from that part of the world.
President Obama needs China's help in dealing with Afghanistan, where China's alliance with Pakistan and its investments in Afghanistan make it an important part of the diplomatic puzzle in seeking a negotiated end to that hopeless war. Obama needs China, too, in relation to Iran, not to impose useless economic sanctions but to provide Iran with diplomatic assurances and some gentle pressure to move toward an accord over its nuclear program. And, of course, China is central to the confrontation with North Korea. In addition, on economics and the environment, China is by far the most important player after the United States. If the Obama administration thinks it can play hardball with China, pressuring and intimidating it to win its support for US policy goals, then the former junior senator from Illinois has another think coming.
Hillary Clinton is already revving up her hawkish rhetoric on China's Iran policy. Last week, during the Afghanistan conference in London, Clinton slammed China over Iran, warning Beijing that it would face diplomatic isolation if it doesn't cave in and support sanctions on Iran. And Clinton said outright that China's policy in the Middle East is built around its concerns over the region's (and Iran's) oil. Addressing China's leaders, she said:
"We understand that right now, that is something that seems counterproductive to you, sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs."
As if the United States doesn't base its own Middle East policy on the fact that the Persian Gulf is the center of the world's oil supply!