Arms sales remain a point of contention
Updated: 2011-08-17 11:23
By Zhang Wenzong (China Daily)
BEIJING - United States Vice-President Joe Biden, who arrives in Beijing on Wednesday, is expected to discuss a new round of arms sales to Taiwan during his visit to China, according to some overseas news reports. One of his tasks while he is here is to persuade the Chinese government not to overreact.
The recent US debt crisis and Standard & Poor's lowering the US credit rating is expected to be another topic of discussion when Biden meets Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping. China, the largest owner of US national debt, will likely urge the US to assure the security of dollar assets, the US economic outlook and other financial issues troubling the Middle Kingdom.
How China and the US interact on these sensitive issues will be a mirror to reflect recent changes in Sino-US relations.
From the perspective of Chinese people, Biden is legendary. He was elected as a senator from Delaware at the age of 29 and was re-elected six times. At the age of 65, he was selected by US President Barack Obama as his running mate. He stuttered as a child, but with great determination he became a public speaker as well as public servant. He lives a simple life and has been dubbed the "least wealthy senator" by the US media. He has also survived two brain aneurysms.
Biden also has extensive diplomatic experience. Having served as the chairman of the foreign relations committee in the Senate, he presided over and participated in major diplomatic hearings and decisions. He frequently travels and has developed relationships with many foreign heads of state.
The vice-president is typically a symbolic role in the White House, but the "energy" of each varies upon each individual's character. Dick Cheney, the previous vice-president, was a huge influence in the White House and thus caused the US media to speculate on whether he or George W. Bush was the real boss.
Biden's relationship with China can be traced back to the 1970s. In April 1979, Biden visited China as a member of the first US delegation after the beginning of Sino-US relations. He has also witnessed a "dramatic transformation" of China. In Biden's view, China was not the focus of the world, and he held a rational understanding toward China's development and Sino-US relations. Like most other US politicians, Biden held prejudices toward China's political system and issues of human rights.
The topic of arms sales has been a long-standing issue between the two countries.In 1982, the US promised to China that it would not seek a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan; it intended to gradually reduce arms sales to Taiwan. To dispel the concern of their "Taiwan friends", former US president Ronald Reagan agreed to "Six Assurances", which promised not to set a deadline for arms sales to Taiwan and not to negotiate with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.
The US and China's battle over this question is complex, but one thing is clear: The US neither complied with its commitment to Beijing nor does it fulfill its guarantee to Taipei. The US continues to play a dangerous game between the two sides.
At the beginning of last year, the Chinese government reacted strongly after the US announced arms sales to Taiwan, reneging its invitation to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Eventually ties were re-established and Gates visited China for four days in January.
No matter how carefully the US treats this question, China will not swallow the bitter pill silently or be grateful because the US has reduced the scale of sales.
Since the beginning of this year, high-level visits between China and the US have frequently occurred and a few recent issues, such as the South China Sea dispute, have intensified the situation between China and the US.
But structural contradictions in the Sino-US relationship have not been solved, and expecting Biden to improve bilateral relations during his visit isn't realistic.
In the near future, the relationship between the two countries is expected to remain the same because attention will soon turn to upcoming elections in the US. On the other hand, if the US does proceed with arms sales with Taiwan, Sino-US relations with inevitably be affected.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of American Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
For China Daily
US Vice-President Joe Biden visits China August 17-22.
Li Xing, China Daily's assistant editor-in-chief and veteran columnist, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Aug 7 in Washington DC, US.
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