China-US Ties Sinking 10/23 06:37
BEIJING (AP) -- "Both ignorant and malicious" was how the official China
Daily newspaper recently described comments by U.S. Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo, offering a stinging insight into the current bitter tone of discourse
between the countries.
The White House's move to expand Washington's dispute with Beijing beyond
trade and technology and into accusations of political meddling has sunk
relations between the world's two largest economies to the lowest level since
the Cold War.
A major speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 4 was the clearest,
highest-level sign that U.S. strategy was turning from engagement to
confrontation. Pence accused China of interfering in the midterm elections to
undermine President Donald Trump's tough trade policies against Beijing, warned
other countries to be wary of Beijing's "debt diplomacy" and denounced China's
actions in the South China Sea.
"What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing
across this country," Pence told an audience at the Hudson Institute think tank
Both sides are trading increasingly sharp accusations over human rights and
global hegemony, exposing an ideological divide that pits the two on a path of
confrontation with no clear resolution in sight.
While a military clash has not been ruled out, American-based analysts
envision a continuing push-and-pull for dominance between Trump and his Chinese
counterpart, Xi Jinping, China's most dominant --- and repressive --- leader
since Mao Zedong. Xi's aggressive foreign policy and authoritarian ways have
altered views of China across the board.
"What has happened is a sea change in U.S. perceptions of China," said June
Teufel Dreyer, an expert on Chinese politics who teaches political science at
the University of Miami. While Chinese officials privately say they're
concerned about the sharp deterioration in ties, especially given the massive
links between the two in trade, immigration and education, it appears Beijing
is more than willing to go toe-to-toe under the new circumstances.
Increasingly, the perception that as China grew more prosperous it would
fall in line with global values and international law has been exploded. Into
that breach has come hardening U.S. rhetoric toward Beijing and actions to
counter, deter or defy China's moves in the international sector, particularly
its "Belt and Road" trade and infrastructure initiative that seeks to expand
Beijing's economic and political footprint from Cambodia to Cairo.
Trump's first national security strategy, released last year, also labeled
China a "revisionist power" alongside Russia.
Beijing's outrage at Pompeo, meanwhile, was prompted by his recent warnings
to Latin American countries about the dangers of accepting Chinese
infrastructure loans that are a key aspect of Xi's signature foreign policy
"U.S.-China relations have deteriorated to their worst point" since the 1989
Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in Beijing that were crushed by the
Chinese military, said Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for Northeast Asia at the
International Crisis Group.
"It may not be a clash of civilizations, but it is a long-festering conflict
of national, political and economic interest and systems that has reached a
point of rupture," Kovrig said.
Xi has abandoned the strategy laid out by reformist leader Deng Xiaoping
that China should bide its time and refrain from advertising its ambitions to
become a world power. Instead, he has been accused of overreach by promoting
China's drive to become a global technology leader by 2025, including by
compelling foreign companies to hand over their know-how, and pushing
Chinese-financed energy and transportation projects that leave target countries
with unsustainable debt.
On the military front, a Chinese destroyer last month maneuvered perilously
close to the USS Decatur in the South China Sea. The Chinese also denied a
request for a U.S. Navy ship to visit Hong Kong and rejects U.S. concerns over
its policies toward other countries.
"The U.S. simply aims to drive a wedge between China and relevant countries
with those remarks," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday. "It
is meaningless and futile."
The tart rhetoric is evident on both sides.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a speech
last week that China's government "is engaged in the persecution of religious
and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell," referencing the
internment of Muslims in the country's northwest in political reeducation camps.
This month, the United States went further by threatening to pull out of the
Universal Postal Union because it says the treaty allows China to ship packages
to the U.S. at discounted rates at the expense of American businesses.
Underlying the estrangement is the sense that Beijing lacks reciprocity,
taking advantage of open markets and free societies to extend its interests,
while denying the same benefits to companies, governments and individuals over
which it has influence.
"My bottom line view is that Xi Jinping very much overplayed his hand taking
advantage of the restrained and moderate (former President Barack) Obama," said
Robert Sutter, a China expert at George Washington University. "Now he has an
enormous American series of challenges to deal with, with no easy solutions."
While Chinese companies --- often backed by easy credit from state banks ---
have been snapping up foreign assets, Beijing restricts such foreign purchases
in key sectors such as energy, transport and telecommunications. Although China
has loosened some joint-venture demands, including in the auto industry, that
may be too little too late.
China is "not very willing to constrain itself under rules that it feels
were forced upon it," said Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at the Heritage
Foundation in Washington. "This includes the international trading system,
which is dominated by the U.S."
Still, attempts to contain China along the lines laid out during the Cold
War would be "difficult, if not impossible," given the broad range of contacts
across political, economic and personal spheres, Cheng said.
The U.S. has also reinforced ties with Taiwan --- claimed by China as its
own territory --- building an impressive new de facto embassy there, approving
a major sale of military parts and services, and authorizing companies to help
the self-governing island democracy build submarines to defend itself from
China's threats to use force to bring it under Beijing's control.
The tensions are underscored by political uncertainties in both countries.
Trump faces a referendum of sorts on his policies in next month's midterm
elections, while Xi has come under rare criticism at home since he forced
through a constitutional amendment in March to allow him to lead indefinitely.
Xi is also beset by a slowing economy, made worse by U.S. tariffs that
threaten the jobs of millions of Chinese workers. While China has retaliated
with its own tariffs on U.S. goods, the loss of American markets will likely be
a major drag on growth.
All such factors appear to speak poorly for any immediate resolution to the
Michael Mazza, a foreign policy expert at the conservative American
Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, said "competition will remain
the norm" between the two countries unless China is willing to make significant
changes in its domestic, economic and foreign policies.
"At this point, there is little reason to suspect that such a shift is in
the offing," Mazza said.