US hopes to ride out rough China patch

WASHINGTON: In the span of a few weeks, China has angrily denounced the United States twice after President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama and approved an arms package to Taiwan.

But despite the strident words, some US officials, if not yet breathing a sigh of relief, are cautiously optimistic that relations between the Pacific powers will weather a stormy patch.

China watchers in the United States say Beijing may have concluded that it overplayed its hand with its recent assertive stance or that its interests are best served by seeking cooperation with Washington.

On Friday, China summoned US ambassador

Jon Huntsman, and warned that Obama had “seriously harmed China-US relations” by meeting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

Asked to assess the Chinese reaction, a senior US official said: “I think there were some decibels. I’m not sure there were teeth.”

In late January, China

announced it was suspending military ties with the United States and punishing US companies involved in a 6.4-billion-dollar weapons sale to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rebel province.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington, said Beijing may have realized it cannot stop the US president from meeting with the widely respected Buddhist monk.

“In part, they may have recognized that the sort of nationalistic emotional reaction to the arms sales was already getting out of hand and further fanning the flames of nationalism does not serve Chinese interests, particularly with a relationship as important as that with the US,” Glaser said.

“This may be wishful thinking, but they may

be beginning to see that what many people are seeing as a more assertive posture by China is not necessarily going to produce the outcome they want.”

Obama returned on the defensive from his first visit to Beijing in November. China gave him no visible achievements — it did not free jailed dissidents as it has in the past for visiting US leaders and did not broadcast the president’s one public forum.

Douglas Paal, a top adviser on Asia to presidents Ronald Reagan and

George HW Bush, said China and the United States had chances in the coming months to focus on areas of cooperation.

Obama has invited world leaders to Washington

in April for a summit on nuclear security. While it remains to be seen if

President Hu Jintao will attend, the Chinese and US leaders are both expected to go later in the year to Group of 20 summits in Canada and South Korea.