|10BEIJING281||2010-02-03 23:16:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Beijing|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 000281
1. (C) Summary: Beijing observers continue to claim that
despite the loud and angry official reaction to the U.S.
announcement of arms sales to Taiwan, the government wants to
avoid fundamentally damaging U.S.-China relations.
Nonetheless, real popular discontent may underlay harsh media
statements. One Beijing scholar pointed to frustration in
some circles that the Obama Administration talked about
improving relations but has been unwilling to make
substantive changes. Another suggested public anger would
push the government into stronger measures, such as a large
increase in the military budget and a high-profile test of
its "anti-carrier" ballistic missile (a test that has been
rumored to be in the works for some time). A Guangdong
observer took a nationalistic line, noting China's continued
rise and advising the U.S. not to alienate Chinese citizens
now, for fear of future consequences. The Mainland media
continued its criticism of the arms sale, favorably quoting
the Foreign Ministry Spokesman's statements on sanctions
against U.S. companies involved in the sale, and damage to
cooperation on international issues (ref. D). A Chinese News
Service (Xinhua) report on Ambassador Huntsman's media
roundtable headlined "U.S. Ambassador hopes downturn in
U.S.-China relations doesn't last long" was reprinted by 31
media outlets online.
Dissatisfaction and Political Correctness
2. (C) Beijing University School of International Studies
Deputy Director Zhu Feng told Poloff February 3 that he was
"a bit surprised at China's overreaction" to the arms sales
announcement. Zhu believed that the fundamental reason for
Beijing's strong response was increasing dissatisfaction in
the PRC leadership with the "lack of substance" in bilateral
relations, despite official assessments that they improved in
2009. "China wants real, tangible changes in the nature of
relations, but sees the Obama Administration's initiatives as
mostly rhetorical," Zhu said. The "overreaction," however,
he attributed to government dynamics in Beijing. "The PLA
reaction is emotional," Zhu explained, "the MFA does not want
to be marginalized, and nobody wants to be seen as
'chicken'." Everyone is reacting individually, without any
cross agency coordination, and strong statements are a kind
of "political correctness," Zhu noted.
More Sound than Fury
3. (C) Zi Zhongyun, Senior Fellow at the Institute of
American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
told Poloff February 3 that the Chinese reaction to the arms
sales announcement was "more rhetoric than substance." In
her analysis, the Chinese public was genuinely shocked by the
arms sale, having been "lulled into false expectations" by
continual good-news stories about the U.S.-China relationship
beginning with the 30th anniversary celebrations in January,
2009. The Chinese media was fueling, rather than reducing,
this sense of outrage, she said. She vehemently criticized
Chinese newspapers, particularly the Global Times, for
"misleading" the public. Behind the media's blaring
headlines, however, were pragmatic policymakers who
understand the relationship and do not want to see a
prolonged downturn, she said.
Government May Be Forced To Do More Than It Wants To
4. (C) Renmin University Professor Jin Canrong told Poloff
February 3 that, though no one in the Chinese "establishment"
wanted to see the arms sale seriously affect U.S.-China
relations, pressure from public opinion would force them to
act. The Chinese government needed to "stand up to" the
United States to keep public constituencies happy, Jin said.
"Chinese rulers are technocrats, not ideologues or real
opinion leaders," Jin reasoned. "Therefore, when presented
with a crisis, they have to follow the wind instead of taking
a clear position." Jin said that the Chinese leadership will
have to show that it can react with actions as well as words.
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He said that he expected that China would announce a larger
than predicted military budget this year and conduct a public
test of the Dong Feng anti-ship "carrier killer" missile,
leaving no doubt that these actions were tied to the U.S.
arms sale. (Note: Jin may have been referring to the Dong
Feng 21 anti-ship ballistic missile, which has been in the
Chinese press.) In the future, Jin said, the "price" for
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan would continue to rise as China's
public demanded its leaders impose "real consequences" on the
United States for its Taiwan policy.
5. (C) Tao Wenzhao, Senior Fellow at the China Academy of
Social Sciences (CASS), agreed with Jin that some Chinese
action that went beyond rhetoric would be necessary for the
government at this point. He said that it may not have been
the intention of the government to impose concrete measures
on the United States at first, but popular demand was too
high to ignore now. "They will have to do something to
follow through on the sanctions threat at least," Tao said,
"but it is completely unclear what they might do. Their
options are not good." The Chinese government's interest now
is responding to public opinion adequately while preserving
the relationship with the United States, he said.
Guangzhou Contact Vitriolic
6. (SBU) In Guangzhou, Fan Haiquan of the Guangdong Social
Science Academy told ConGenOff that he did not think the
military sales would affect cross Strait ties, except perhaps
regarding potential military dialogues or mutual security
measures. On U.S.-China relations, however, Fan criticized
Washington for failing to calculate the future impact of the
Chinese people's "growing hatred" for the "hegemonic and
unilateral behavior" of the United States. Previously,
Beijing had to tolerate the U.S.' pro-Taiwan actions because
it was weak, Fan said. Someday in the future, China will be
strong enough that it will not have to tolerate this anymore.
At that time, does America want to deal with Chinese people
"filled with goodwill or hatred," Fan asked.
Sanctions against U.S. Companies
7. (C) Zhu Feng of Beijing University said he did not take
sanctions seriously. "This is a storm that will pass."
Boeing is so integrated into the PRC economy that it cannot
easily be sanctioned without the action backfiring, Zhu
noted. Further, China does not want to harm our bilateral
commercial ties, he posited.
8. (SBU) The mainland media continued to strongly oppose arms
sales to Taiwan, and alluded to consequences to the
U.S.-China bilateral relationship. Many papers mentioned
China was "firm" on sanctions against U.S. companies as a
substantive bargaining chip to hit the U.S. where it hurts:
its economy. Renmin Ribao (People's Daily, circ 2.2 million)
on February 3 quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ma
Zhaoxu's comments at the regularly scheduled press briefing
on February 2. Ma's comments were also carried in the China
Daily in a front page article that also quoted Gong Li,
Deputy Director of the Central Party School International
Institute for Strategic Studies, saying "With good prospects
for cross-Strait relations there is no need to sell Taiwan
those weapons at all."
9. (SBU) Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times, circ 1.5 million)
quoted Beijing University's Center for China Strategy
Research scholar Dai Xu as saying "China recognizes that a
few perfunctory protests will not have any effect. China
must come up with substantive counter-measures to enable the
U.S. to pay a price in its own economy so that it will feel
the pain.... China can't directly sanction American arms
companies since they did not do business with China... but
China can sanction companies that are doing business with
China directly, like Boeing or General Electric."
10. (SBU) News of Ambassador Huntsman's February 2 roundtable
with Chinese press was not broadly reported, although a
Chinese News Service (Xinhua) report headlined "U.S.
Ambassador hopes downturn in U.S.-China relations doesn't
last long" was reprinted by 31 media outlets online. Xinhua
highlighted the Ambassador's comments that the bilateral
relationship was the most complex and important in the world.