and fall of 2009, Beijing began a campaign, voiced mainly by scholars and formal officials, to convince the Ma Ying-jeou administration on Taiwan that the time had come for political talks. It did so at a time when President Ma faced serious domestic problems, and did not wish to make them worse by engaging in political talks with China for which a consensus did not exist within Taiwan. In early 2010, China responded sharply (perhaps overreacted) to President Obama’s decision to notify Congress concerning an arms package for Taiwan and to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. China’s maritime agencies stepped up an effort to expand the country’s presence in the East and South China Seas. This reflected a more fundamental policy objective to push out its strategic perimeter away from the coast. The most telling example of this effort was the Senkaku Islands incident of September 2010, which quickly escalated into a serious diplomatic incident. But it was also manifested in growing tensions in the South China Sea between China and other countries that have claims in the Spratly Islands. This came to a head at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, but the tensions have only gotten worse in 2011. China sat idly by while North Korea took provocative action against South Korea: first the sinking of the Cheonan naval vessel in March 2010 and then the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November. That China in effect took Pyongyang’s side was deeply resented by both the government and public in South Korea (more on the Korea issue below). There is some debate as to whether all of these actions reflected strategic decisions by central leaders to more vigorously assert China’s interests against its neighbors. In some cases, particularly maritime disputes, it may be that the agencies concerned were not under firm central control. In some cases, Chinese leaders were probably constrained by strong nationalist sentiment. But still the damage was done. The United States became involved in each of these issues, primarily because it was the ally or partner of the countries affected by China’s actions. Thus, Washington reaffirmed its position that the Senkaku Islands fell within the scope of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. These episodes exacerbated questions that the Obama administration had about China’s commitment to regional stability. And it was common in China during 2010 for analysts and commentators to regard these various episodes not as signs of problems in their country’s external policy but as a U.S. plot to contain China and stop its rise. So it was no surprise that the problem of “strategic mistrust” has received so much attention in the bilateral relationship, including in the two joint statement concluded by Presidents Obama and Hu at their summits in November 2009 and January 2011. This mistrust and the interactions that create it belies the existence of a G-2. The Strategic Context: How Should the United States Respond? In a situation of power transitions, an established power must make choices on how to respond to a rising power. It must start with an accurate
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- Winter '16
- Jeff Hannan
- Climate Change, South China Sea