On the defensive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2010, 12:00am

The US has announced a new arms package for Taiwan and, as expected, Beijing has responded angrily. It has not only suspended military-to-military relations with Washington but also threatened punitive action against US companies that supply the weapons and issued a veiled threat that it would halt co-operation on the resolution of global issues.

A commentary in the China Daily said: 'From now on, the US shall not expect co-operation 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?'

Such an attitude is extremely disturbing. While Beijing has some justification for saying that Washington is not abiding by earlier accords, there seems little reason to say that China will, from now on, refuse to co-operate on regional or global issues.

After all, what are the issues that the US is seeking China's co-operation on? They are to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons in such places as North Korea and Iran, and countering the threat of terrorism, as well as dealing with the ongoing financial crisis and global warming.

Surely, these are not simply American issues, but Chinese ones, as well. China, after all, does not want to see North Korea transformed into a nuclear power. Nor does China want to see Iran armed with nuclear weapons.

Similarly, China is a potential victim of terrorism from radical Islam because of the Xinjiang issue. It can certainly benefit from the exchange of information with the US and other countries.

Other issues, such as the economy and climate change, also do not affect the US alone. To think that these are American, not Chinese, issues is nonsensical.

If China were to withhold its co-operation in tackling these and other issues, it would be extremely shortsighted and disappoint its many friends and supporters around the world. They are pinning their hopes on the emergence of a rising China that will be part of the solution to global problems, not a country that will add to those problems by refusing to act.

Behaving irresponsibly out of frustration, without regard to the consequences, will not enhance China's image in the world.

Actually, Beijing should realise that the US is not forcing weapons down Taiwan's throat. Washington is simply responding to a request from Taipei, which sees that Beijing is continuing to increase the number of ballistic missiles targeting Taiwan along the mainland coast, despite the Ma Ying-jeou administration's decision to end the quest for Taiwan independence.

Besides, the weapons approved for sale are clearly defensive, not offensive. Most of the US$6.4 billion is for Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, which are for defending Taiwan and cannot be used to attack the mainland. The Obama administration has not acted on Taiwan's desire for more advanced F-16 fighter jets or for help to develop diesel submarines.

Beijing should also realise that a Taiwan that is more confident because it possesses some degree of military capability to defend itself is more likely to negotiate cross-strait accords than a Taiwan that feels powerless.

China and India have agreed to develop their political and economic relationship despite the lack of an agreement on their disputed border. There appears to be no reason why China and the US cannot decide that the arms-sales issue will not be an obstacle to the development of bilateral relations.

After all, whether Taiwan pursues independence in the future will largely depend on what Beijing does. Continuing to threaten Taiwan with military force is unlikely to win the hearts and minds of the people on the island.

That is not the way to proceed if Beijing is serious about wanting to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully.

And when Taiwan no longer feels threatened by the mainland, it will no longer seek to obtain weapons from the US. The arms-sale issue would resolve itself. It is within Beijing's control.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator