U.S. Arms for Taiwan Send Beijing a Message

The New York Times argues that the recent announcement from the Obama administration of an arms sale to Taiwan was a calculated pushback against China’s “increasingly muscular position toward the United States”:

The arms package was doubly infuriating to Beijing coming so soon after the Bush administration announced a similar arms package for Taiwan in 2008, and right as tensions were easing somewhat in Beijing and Taipei’s own relations. China’s immediate, and outraged, reaction — cancellation of some military exchanges and announcement of punitive sanctions against American companies — demonstrates, China experts said, that Beijing is feeling a little burned, particularly because the Taiwan arms announcement came on the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly berated China for not taking a stronger position on holding Iran accountable for its nuclear program.

While administration officials sounded a uniform public note, cautioning Beijing not to allow this latest tiff to damage overall relations, some administration officials suggested privately that the timing of the arms sales and the tougher language on Iran was calculated to send a message to Beijing to avoid assumptions that President Obama would be deferential to China over American security concerns and existing agreements.

“This was a case of making sure that there was no misunderstanding that we will act in our own national security interests,” one senior administration official said. A second Obama administration official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said pointedly: “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.”

But larger questions remain about where the Obama administration is heading on China policy, and whether the new toughness signals a fundamentally new direction and will yield results that last year’s softer approach did not.

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