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US relations with China worsenPresident plans tougher line over trade surplus while Beijing refuses to back down over Iran sanctions
The sudden deterioration in US-Chinese relations is set to accelerate after the White House confirmed today that Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama in Washington later this month in defiance of Beijing.
The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, did not set a date, but the Dalai Lama's secretary has said he will be in Washington on 17 and 18 February.
Beijing claims Tibet is part of China, views the Dalai Lama as a troublemaker and has lobbied firmly against the visit.
Although other US presidents have met the Dalai Lama, China had hoped that Obama might adopt a different approach, given the enthusiasm with which he wooed Beijing last year.
The controversial visit comes on top of a series of rows over the last few weeks in which relations between the US and China have taken a turn for the worse.
Obama told US legislators on Wednesday that he will take a tougher line towards China over its huge US trade surplus.
Other grievances include US plans to sell arms to Taiwan, the row with the leading search engine Google over alleged cyber attacks, and US disappointment at China's failure to support it over climate change at Copenhagen and on sanctions against Iran.
China specialists in Washington said today that the Obama administration had always planned the Dalai Lama meeting and the arms sales to Taiwan, but had simply deferred them while it established a rapport with Beijing.
But there had been a sudden coming together of issues over the last month. These have created "a perfect storm and the question now is how to navigate out of it," said Evan Feigenbaum, a China specialist at Washington's Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. "I think it is going to be a rocky year."
What has made US-Chinese relations even more volatile is that they have become part of American domestic politics, in particular public resentment over job losses.
Obama, speaking to Democratic legislators in Washington on Wednesday, urged China to open its markets more to US goods. "The approach that we are taking is to try to get much tougher about enforcement of existing rules," he said.
He added that the China had to address currency rates to ensure that the price of US goods was not artificially inflated while imports were artificially deflated. An even playing field, he said, could help double US exports and create US jobs.
"If we just increased our exports to Asia by a percentage point, by a fraction, it would mean hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of jobs here in the United States," Obama told the senators.
China, responding to Obama , said it will not submit to US pressure to revalue its currency. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said the Chinese currency is not the main reason for China's trade surplus with the US: "Accusations and pressure do not help."
China also showed no signtoday either of backing down over Iranian sanctions. The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, on a visit to Paris, rejected calls by the US, Britain and others to back UN security council sanctions. "To talk about sanctions against Iran at present was counterproductive," he said.
The US continued to ramp up pressure today. The US deputy assistant secretary of state, David Shear, told a Congressional panel that Beijing would regret any action to punish US businesses involved in the planned $6.4bn (£4bn) arms sales to Taiwan. He said the US was "greatly concerned" at the prospect of retaliatory action by China.
A common theme among Chinese specialists in the US is that the breach is because China has become overconfident about its rising world power status and has been over-reaching itself.
Shear said that rising Chinese confidence was prompting Beijing to assert its interests in Asia more forcefully, but the US was making sure China understood the US too had interests in the region.
Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at Washington's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said: "We are going to have a rough patch. No doubt about it. Issues that have been on the backburner are coming to the fore."
She saw the rows as part of a rebalancing of expectations. "The US may have had a high expectation for China and the Chinese may have had too high expectations of the Obama administration. I think both want to remain on even keel. The Chinese would be worried if it went to a downward spiral. And so would we."
Professor Susan Shirk, Bill Clinton's deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for China, and now at the University of California, said she did not see a change from Obama's side. "What I do see is some change on the Chinese side that I believe is due to a rather unfortunate combination of international overconfidence and domestic insecurity."
Feigenbaum said that, in spite of Obama's efforts in the first year to build confidence, "there is an enduring lack of trust and confidence on both sides".
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