AT NO time since the end of the Cold War have U.S.-China relations been worse. Yes, in the past there have been periodic confrontations over Taiwan, and tensions over the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the Chinese fighter-jet collision with an American reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea. But the current downturn reflects a potential long-term trend with the likelihood of protracted strategic conflict. Equally troubling, this raising of tensions is not only unnecessary but also potentially costly to the United States.
Beginning in early 2009, China committed a series of diplomatic blunders that ultimately elicited a near-universal condemnation of Chinese diplomacy. The list is long:
- The March 2009 Chinese naval harassment of the U.S. Navy reconnaissance ship Impeccable operating in China’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea;
- Beijing’s heavy-handed resistance to negotiation at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, causing diplomatic friction between China and Europe and between China and the United States;
- Its hard-line response to the January 2010 U.S. decision to sell arms to Taiwan, which included a threat to impose sanctions on U.S. companies that have defense cooperation with Taipei;
- Mismanagement of North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March 2010, followed by widespread South Korean anger toward China;
- Strident Chinese diplomatic protests against U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in international waters in the Yellow Sea;