US and China Won’t Step on Each Other’s Toes

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama this week. The talks will take place on the sidelines of a summit on nuclear security being held in Washington. The Chinese leader will be one of the few heads of state participating in the forum that Obama will receive. This meeting is a sign of the significance that the White House attaches to relations with China.

The talks will take place in the midst of a U.S. presidential campaign in which the Chinese question occupies a considerable place. The candidates are saying that it’s necessary to take a tougher stance on China, accusing China of unfair competition that costs Americans jobs. Yet, as history has shown, campaign rhetoric sinks into oblivion the minute a new administration takes the reins of power.

Beijing knows this full well. As is apparent from Premier Li Keqiang’s statements, China is not really concerned about which of the candidates will be the boss in the White House. Whoever wins, Sino-U.S. relations will develop steadily and progressively, Li said. The guarantee thereof is the gigantic trade between the two powers that totals $560 billion. No one wants to damage ties that are beneficial to both sides.

Economic topics will occupy an important place in the agenda of the talks. The conclusion of an agreement on mutual investments is possible. Work on this agreement has lasted eight years. If bargaining over the document is brought to a successful conclusion, the amount of U.S. investments in China and of Chinese investments in the U.S. will increase significantly.

In the run-up to the visit, Chinese officials emphasized the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship. At the same time, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Baodong admitted that there are serious disagreements. Take North Korea for example. China condemned the nuclear test — the fourth of its kind — that North Korea conducted in January. China supported the U.N. Security Council’s new, more severe sanctions. But China doesn’t approve of the unilateral sanctions that Washington has imposed or the plans to deploy missile defense elements in South Korea.

Sanctions aren’t the solution. Beijing believes a resumption of talks involving China, Russia, the United States, Japan, South Korea and North Korea might lead to a settlement. Xi Jinping is expected to insist that the U.S. abandon its uncompromising policy toward the regime in Pyongyang.

There are even more intractable disputes when it comes to the South China Sea. During his overseas visit last September, Xi said that China does not seek militarization of the area. But in fact he’s building airfields and deploying air defense systems on the disputed islands. The U.S. has responded by sending some of its ships and bombers to these patches of land. Since China lays claim to most of the waters, they are becoming a potential military conflict zone. Will the parties find a way to cool tensions?

It’s become a tradition that during discussions, the White House raises the question of human rights in China. The arrests of activists involved in the online distribution of a letter calling for Xi’s resignation might serve as the reason this time. Sixteen employees of the website on which the letter appeared have been detained. Since Beijing suspects that Chinese journalists living in the U.S. and Germany were involved in the ideological sabotage, their relatives in China were subjected to arrest.

In short, the Americans will hardly greet their guest with applause. Nevertheless, much in the world and especially in the Asia-Pacific region depends on the outcome of the two leaders’ conversations. One may ask, what place does Russia occupy in the new distribution of power? In the first half of the 2000s, both countries saw in Russia a third power and sought to sway Moscow to its side. Our intervention in Ukraine put an end to all of that. Ostracized by the U.S. and the European Union, Russia was forced to put all its eggs into one basket — the Chinese basket. And as a result, it can no longer count on playing the role of mediator between the rival powers.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 188 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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