The Chinese government has responded angrily to a newly announced sale of American arms to Taiwan, imposing sanctions on U.S. companies involved and canceling some military exchange programs. As the New York Times reports:
The American decision to sell more weapons to Taiwan “constitutes a gross intervention into China’s internal affairs, seriously endangers China’s national security and harms China’s peaceful reunification efforts,” (Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei) said in the ministry’s statement.
The Obama administration notified Congress on Friday of its plans to proceed with five arms sales transactions with Taiwan worth a total of $6.4 billion. The arms deals include 60 Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot interceptor missiles, advanced Harpoon missiles that can be used against land or ship targets and two refurbished minesweepers.
And unfortunately, that bristling response fits into a larger pattern of behavior emerging in recent months, as the Washington Post reports:
China’s indignant reaction to the announcement of U.S. plans to sell weapons to Taiwan appears to be in keeping with a new triumphalist attitude from Beijing that is worrying governments and analysts across the globe.
From the Copenhagen climate change conference to Internet freedom to China’s border with India, China observers have noticed a tough tone emanating from its government, its representatives and influential analysts from its state-funded think tanks.
Calling in U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman on Saturday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said the United States would be responsible for “serious repercussions” if it did not reverse the decision to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion worth of helicopters, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, minesweepers and communications gear. The reaction came even though China has known for months about the planned deal, U.S. officials said.
“There has been a change in China’s attitude,” said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a former senior National Security Council official who is currently at the Brookings Institution. “The Chinese find with startling speed that people have come to view them as a major global player. And that has fed a sense of confidence.”
…. David Finkelstein, a former U.S. Army officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who now runs the China program at the Center for Naval Analyses, said the new tone underscores a shift in China. “On the external front,” he said, “we will likely see a China that is more willing than in the past to proactively shape the external environment and international order rather than passively react to it.”
To some degree this is natural behavior from an emerging major power acting more confidently on the international stage. But it’s certainly compounded by the sense that as China rises, the United States has begun to recede in relative terms thanks to its continuing economic problems and the strain of long-term expensive commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But China’s growing confidence is only part of the equation, because its people and its leadership are also insecure and defensive about what they perceive as a lack of respect internationally. That combination of pride and insecurity can be volatile, and I worry about China’s ability to calibrate its behavior in some future crisis.