Then came the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which some in China cheered as showing an “arrogant” America getting what it deserved. (One of the callers to the Voice of America program on which I appeared during the tenth 9/11 anniversary week proudly proclaimed that he was among that minority celebratory group.)
The Bush administration responded by mobilizing a global coalition in a war on terror and launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While not directly participating in the military operations, China joined rhetorically in the counter-terrorism campaign but focused its efforts almost exclusively on the “separatists” and “splittists” in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The administration managed to convince itself that China was a reliable ally in the anti-terror project, and as the Clinton administration before it had believed, a useful partner in combating the growing danger from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In the post-9/11 strategic environment, at least as it was perceived, Bush never repeated his clear commitment to Taiwan’s defense.
Meanwhile, the newly elected administration of Taiwan began chafing at the constraints China continued to impose on its national identity and participation in international activities. Washington openly sided with Beijing in warning Taipei against these rhetorical “provocations.”
China was happy to pocket American concessions and affirmations of its role as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system and felt no obligation to deliver anything substantial on either terrorism or North Korea, nor to demonstrate its bona fides in any of the other areas previously at issue in the US-China relationship such as trade, currency manipulation, and human rights.