China and the United States are poised to downplay the recent row over a US decision to sell arms to Taiwan last week, as the two countries are unlikely to damage their economic relations or harm their cooperation in global affairs, analysts said.
China on Monday conducted a missile interception test, which was seen as a signal against the arms sale. However, the Foreign Ministry yesterday insisted the test was "defensive in nature and was not targeted at any country or region".
The test followed the Obama administration's approval last week to sell Taiwan PAC-3 Patriot air-defense missile systems that can shoot down short-range missiles.
China reacted strongly to the US decision, issuing six protesting statements in three days criticizing the deal. China's defense ministry warned over the weekend that it reserved the right to take unspecified action if Washington followed through with the sale, which it called a "severe obstacle" to China-US military ties.
AFP has quoted analysts as saying the Chinese mainland's missile test would keep pressure on the US over the Taiwan deal and was likely to have been conducted as a show of force.
Yet Jin Canrong, a scholar on international studies with Beijing-based Renmin University of China, said the test should not be associated with the PAC-3 sale, because the weapon was defensive in nature.
Niu Jun, a scholar with Peking University, agreed that since the PAC-3 deal was part of the 2008 arms sale plan that the former Bush administration inked and the weapon was defensive, it was unlikely it would drive the two countries to halt military ties, which happened when the 2008 deal was announced.
Reuters said in its report that the row over the arms sales shows no sign of escalating into military confrontation or diplomatic upheaval.
On the US side, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday also played down friction between the US and China, saying she thinks the countries have a "mature" enough relationship to be able to handle those differences.
"Everyone's aware that China is a rising power of the 21st century," Clinton said on the first day of her first trip of the new year - a nine-day, three-nation Asia-Pacific journey.
Fan Jishe, a scholar in US studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Clinton's remarks show the US is not willing to irritate China, whose help it needs in both domestic and global affairs.
"The US needs China's help on many aspects, including the Korean and Iranian nuclear issues. It will weigh its action first and try to contain the risks," said Fan.
Fan predicts that both sides will downplay the row to bring bilateral relations back to normal as soon as possible. Yet he cautioned bilateral ties might become tense again when Obama meets the Dalai Lama, or trade friction becomes an issue as the US experiences job losses.
"If the Obama administration cannot contain the current row, how can it stop the other frictions from escalating, which, when added together, could lead to a stalemate in bilateral relations again," said Fan.
Fan hinted that those frictions are unavoidable as US mid-term election is approaching and Obama is under domestic pressure dealing with some China-related affairs; however, the US might painstakingly time the occurrences in order to contain the risk.
For instance, Obama will try to meet with the Dalai Lama in a more personal and private manner instead of in a high profile way, Fan said.
Niu with Peking University also said the Obama administration actually has been quite cautious in its decision on the arms sale.
"The US has not touched upon weapons which would be the most destructive to mainland security, including F-16 fighters and diesel-electric submarines," Niu said.