US-Chinese rift underlined by missile dispute: Anger over Pakistan connection fuels hostility between the two powers, writes Raymond Whitaker

Relations between China and the US deteriorated further yesterday as Peking threatened to stop abiding by international controls on missile exports. Washington is likely to see this as an empty gesture, since it believes the Chinese have never paid more than lip-service to the rules in any case.

This belief was behind the American imposition of an embargo on hi-tech exports to China and Pakistan on Thursday. In the case of China it was a reinstatement of sanctions imposed after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and lifted early last year in exchange for Peking's promise to abide by, though not to sign, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This agreement bans the sale of missiles with a range of more than 186 miles, but Washington claims it has clear proof that China has sold Pakistan several M-11 missiles, which have a range of more than 300 miles. Peking denies having violated the MTCR, while avoiding discussion of its specific dealings with Pakistan; Islamabad admits it bought missiles from China, but says their range is less than 186 miles.

'Now that the US side has resumed these sanctions, the Chinese government has been left with no alternatives but to reconsider its commitment to the MTCR,' the Vice-Foreign Minister, Liu Huaqiu, told the US ambassador, J Stapleton Roy, yesterday. 'This naked hegemonic act has brutally violated the basic norms governing international relations.'

The question of Chinese adherence or non-adherence to the MTCR is the most acute of a string of issues which have led to growing hostility between the two powers. Among others are motions in Congress opposing the awarding of the 2000 Olympic Games to Peking, Chinese resistance to American pressure on human rights and sales of Chinese weaponry and nuclear technology to maverick states in the Middle East and South Asia. The latest row is about the cargo of the Yinhe, a vessel the Americans claim is carrying materials to Iran for its chemical weapons programme. The Chinese have complained that the shadowing of the Yinhe by US warships and aircraft constitutes unacceptable bullying.

The general atmosphere of friction owes much to changing political and economic circumstances - the disappearance of the Soviet threat and China's economic boom, which has led to a huge trade surplus with the US - but the intensity of the quarrel over missiles disguises the fact both sides are being careful not to damage more vital interests. The US sanctions are more symbolic than effective, and the Chinese response, despite the strength of the language, is carefully non-specific.

The Clinton administration's desire to appear tough on this issue partly reflects a growing belief in Washington that it is better to put pressure on China in pursuit of limited and achievable goals, rather than use the unwieldy weapon of trade to demand human rights concessions which Peking would consider fatal. The fact that this strategy increasingly resembles the much- criticised approach of George Bush is one that American officials prefer not to discuss.

Chinese anger might be useful to President Clinton, but is no less genuine for all that. Peking's international stance wavers between growing self-confidence, born of its economic achievements, and resentful awareness of its dependence on the US as an export market. Its sales of weapons and nuclear technology to maverick states such as Iran appears partly to reflect a desire to assert itself. The US, on the other hand, seems to feel that if it is too difficult to make Peking behave acceptably at home, it should be possible to force it to do so abroad. The gulf in understanding reflects the degree to which trust has ebbed away.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory