Growing Pains

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

The truth about Sino-U.S. relations.

Despite the recent squall in U.S.-Chinese relations, the fact remains that both countries have powerful reasons to cooperate with one another. These have grown over the last two decades, something that both countries seem to recognize. China's reaction to the Obama administration's decision to sell arms to Taiwan has been furious, but has mostly involved symbolic gestures. Compare this with 1992, when the Bush Sr. administration sent Taipei weapons, and soon afterward Beijing reportedly sold missiles to Pakistan and signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with Iran.

This time China's strongest threat--to "retaliate" against U.S. companies involved in arms sales--is likely to be targeted at those firms, like Raytheon, that have been long-time suppliers to Taipei and as a consequence have written off the China market. Beijing will likely not punish the three American giants involved in the deal: Boeing, General Electric, and United Technologies.

Similarly, Beijing's indignant reaction to President Obama's decision to meet with the Dalai Lama is posturing. The Chinese government could not have been surprised. Every U.S. president in recent memory has met with the Dalai Lama, and Obama told China's President Hu Jintao directly that he was going to meet with the Tibetan leader.

On Washington's part, despite Hillary Clinton's criticisms of China over Internet freedom and President Obama's declaration that he will get tough with Beijing over its currency, it is unlikely that this strong rhetoric will be matched with equivalent actions. The United States has few arrows in its quiver, and the administration knows well that public admonition of Beijing rarely works. In fact, both countries might well be playing the same game: feigning public outrage to satisfy domestic audiences.

But there are two trends that could take a manageable situation and make it something more worrisome. The first is a growing perception in China that it is no longer as reliant on the West, and in particular the United States, as it was. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping brought China out of the cold by embracing America and opening up to foreign investment. This was different from the somewhat predatory, export-driven strategy of Japan and South Korea. …