By Richard Halloran - February 21, 2010

For several years, the Chinese have repeatedly accused the United States of "arrogance." Now some Americans have taken to asserting the same about China.

There's a difference, however. Chinese allegations are publicly orchestrated through spokesmen for the government, the Communist Party, the People's Liberation Army, and the government controlled press and television news. Withering Chinese criticism was aimed at President Obama's meeting last week with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader, in the White House.

For Americans, suggestions that the Chinese have become arrogant come from "China hands" who specialize in the study of China and are assessments made privately so as not to arouse more Chinese ire. In public, allegations of Chinese arrogance come from conservatives who profess to see a Chinese threat to America.

These transpacific rhetorical barrages reflect an underlying distrust between the US and China that affects their political, economic, and military relations. An upbeat glimmer: The US aircraft carrier Nimitz and four other warships arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday to resume military exchanges. The Chinese have often suspended such exchanges to express their political displeasure with the US.

That was the case last month when the Obama Administration announced that the US would sell $6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. The Chinese erupted in anger, with the China Daily contending: ""China's response, no matter how vehement, is justified."

"Washington's arrogance also reflects the stark reality of how a nation's interests could be trampled upon by another," said the English-language paper published to reach the foreign community in China.

Earlier, a Chinese contributor to the China Daily called President Obama's plans to meet with the Dalai Lama "pathetic," "deplorable," and evidence of a "cold war mentality" stemming from "ideology-driven politicians and China bashers." The writer avoided the word "arrogance" but called it "the audacity of shame."

In the US, China watchers quietly caution that the Chinese have become arrogant because their economy has been surging and they believe they have handled the current crisis well. Politically, wrote a contributor to Foreign Policy magazine, "I detect a bit of arrogance in Beijing right now," with Chinese leaders snubbing those from the West at the recent meeting in Copenhagen on global warming.

American military officers note that Chinese counterparts have become self-confident to the point of arrogance because they have experienced a decade of double digit increases in military spending and have acquired new planes, warships, missiles, and high-tech equipment.

The American fear is that this arrogance might cause the Chinese to miscalculate. Leaders of the Pacific Command from Admiral Joseph Prueher, who dealt with the Chinese when they fired missiles at Taiwan in 1996, to Admiral Robert Willard, who took command in October, have cautioned the Chinese not to miscalculate.

Some China hands assert that the Chinese have outmaneuvered the US. As one put it: "They are shaping us more than we are shaping them." They contend that Americans, including both political parties, are on the defensive with subdued responses to Chinese thunder, an arms-length distance with Beijing's rivals in Taiwan, and continuous efforts to placate the Chinese such as the scripted meeting with the Dalai Lama.

President Obama received the Tibetan leader in the Map Room, not the Oval Office. No reporters or photographers were admitted; only an official picture was passed out. There was no joint press conference after the meeting and no briefing on the conversation. A White House statement said Obama expressed support for "the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China."

But that statement ended on a bland, deferential note: "The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China."

Richard Halloran, a free lance writer in Honolulu, was a military correspondent for The New York Times for ten years. He can be reached at
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