The United States and China are headed for a rough patch as the White House appears set to sell a package of weapons to Taiwan and as President Barack Obama plans to meet the Dalai Lama, US officials and analysts said.
The Obama administration is expected to approve the sale of several billion dollars in Black Hawk helicopters and anti-missile batteries to Taiwan early this year, possibly accompanied by a plan gauging design and manufacturing capacity for diesel-powered submarines for the island, which China claims as its territory.
Obama is also preparing to meet the spiritual leader of Tibet, who is considered a separatist by Beijing.
The US president made headlines last year when the White House, in an effort to generate goodwill from China, declined to meet the Dalai Lama, marking the first time in more than a decade that a US president did not meet the religious leader during his occasional visits to Washington.
The expected downturn with Beijing comes despite a concerted effort by the Obama administration for closer ties.
US officials have held more high-level meetings with their Chinese counterparts — including a summit in Beijing in November — in the first year of this administration compared with the inaugural years of the four previous presidencies since relations were normalised with Beijing in 1979, records show.
“I think it’s going to be nasty,” said David Lampton, director of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money and Minds.
That said, he added, “the US and China need each other.”
The White House is hopeful, too, that the damage will be limited.
“The US-China relationship is now far broader and deeper than any one issue alone,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
“We will have disagreements ... but we have demonstrated that we will work together on critical global and regional issues, such as economic recovery, nuclear proliferation and climate change, because doing so is in our mutual interest.”
Still, the impending tension comes at a sensitive time.
After hammering out a wobbly political deal with China on climate change in Copenhagen, the United States still needs China’s help on three pressing international issues: Iran, North Korea and restructuring its economy so that its people consume more and export less.
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