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Opinion: Will China Retaliate for the Dalai Lama Visit?

February 18th, 2010
02:30 PM ET

Editor's note: Gordon G. Chang is the author of "The Coming Collapse of China." He writes a weekly column at Forbes.com.

President Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama later today. Beijing, which has demanded cancellation of the event, has warned that it could damage already strained ties.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/18/dalailama.blog.gi.jpg caption ="President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama in Washington D.C."]

Many think the Chinese are just bluffing. After all, Beijing's leaders have ranted in the past and not carried through on their threats.

But that was then, and this is now. Now, China's officials are feeling their oats and they are testing the new American president.

Most important, they are in the middle of a succession struggle as the so-called Fourth Generation leadership prepares to give way to the Fifth.

Hu Jintao, China's current leader, is slated to step down in 2012 at the 18th Communist Party Congress. The political maneuvering to succeed him is intensifying, and, as it does so, the country's external polices are becoming volatile.

At this moment, unfortunately, there is little room for compromise on matters involving the United States due in part to Hu's hardline stance.

Therefore, disagreements with Washington have become harder to control. We saw tough language from Beijing over, among other matters, Washington's support for Google in its dispute with China over internet policies, and the recent announcement of arms sales to Taiwan.

China watchers say that there are "stabilizers" in the relationship between China and the United States, and that statement may be true most of the time.

But during periods of increasing tension inside the Communist Party, those mechanisms may not function well. So little disputes can flare quickly. Since December, that is precisely what has been happening.

Many analysts often underplay the fundamental difference in values and outlook between the United States and China. In normal times, officials from both countries have been able to paper over differences and stress common interests. Yet transitions are almost always times of uncertainty, even in the most well-ordered of political systems.

They are especially perilous periods in China's, despite recent advancements in the institutionalization of Communist Party rules. Chinese leaders, in sum, have not been able to eliminate communism's systemic instability.

So look for China to retaliate for President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. The retaliation may not be immediate, and it may be subtle. But it is sure to happen.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gordon G. Chang.

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soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. A. Smith, Oregon

    Besides the routine complaints by the Chinese Govt. to the State Dept. and Ambassador, it appears China has dumped a sizable amount of their US Govt. Bond IOU's onto the market dumping the value of the American dollar, and has stopped if not slowed their purchase of American debt thru the world's markets.

    Also it appears that China is advising it's largest investing firms to dump sizable amounts of their stocks and treasury holdings as well. This signal MIGHT be a clue that China has been alerted to a upcoming attack on Iran which would dump certain stock values for one year or longer. China might be attempting to minimize its exposure on the world's markets if Iran is attacked.

    How would America feel towards China, if China had shipped multi-billion dollar advanced missile battery's to Cuba?

    Lastly, the archaic US-Taiwan treaty language MUST be rewritten and the section equating any attack upon Taiwan as the same as an attack upon the State of Florida must be entirely removed. America should not be forced into a huge war against China over Taiwan.

    February 21, 2010 at 3:02 am | Reply
  2. Maven

    Seriously, is A. Smith trying to compare Taiwan to Cuba? Whatever happened to America standing for freedom and human rights?

    February 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Reply

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