A Chinese newspaper editorial largely viewed as a mouthpiece for senior Communist Party officials has suggested that the United States is "playing with fire" in a congressional proposal to sell jet fighters to Taiwan, which relies on American weapon sales as a bulwark against its giant neighbor. While this deal has bipartisan opponents and may eventually be scrapped in favor of an upgrade to Taiwan's existing fleet, it is worthwhile to consider the Chinese response.
While China has never been hesitant about meddling in U.S. policymakers' decisions surrounding its frustratingly prosperous, democratic island neighbor, the tone suggests a move away from the norm. Typically, such pronouncements use language no doubt thought to be subtle, but reflecting a kind of incompetent menace. China now seems more comfortable about pushing the line, no doubt sensing an ascendancy that U.S. policymakers would do well not to ignore. In the past, "improved relations" were a goal to achieve--so long as we were making decisions that aided China's rise. Now they are a carrot to dangle in front of us, to be taken away at will--even if our economic interdependence would turn that into a self-inflicted wound. It seems breathtakingly obvious that our relationship with China will prove alternately more dangerous and perplexing than anything the Middle East could possibly throw at us. But also that China, still, needs us more than we need them.
Though I am not enthusiastic about weapons deals in general, it seems an appropriate response to approve the full jet fighter sale. Aside from any jobs that would be "saved or created," aside from the security of a democratic ally, and aside from any geopolitical consideration, America would do well to remind China that our friendships and choices are not contingent on Chinese approval. What are they going to do? Dump our currency and run to that precious euro? I'd like to see them try.