The U.S. have made no secret of its desire to bring China closer into its orbit as a partner in the Asia-Pacific region and the rhetoric from Washington of late has been resoundingly positive in this regard. The February 2015 issue of the UCR Briefing shares a similar theme, as the U.S. continues its very public courting of China’s officials. However, the complex nature of the U.S.-China relationship ensures that there remains a large number of issues that both take diverging positions on. The following outlines five areas of potential interest tracked by the UCR Briefing in February in following the evolving nature of relations between the world's two most powerful nations.
The Honeymoon Continues?
Since the major breakthrough on climate change policy was made last year, express cooperation with Beijing has become en vogue in Wahington, with officials from outside the state department more willing to comment on direct diplomatic relations between the two. This has been matched by uniformed support by Chinese officials. In illustration of this, there exists no shortage of rhetoric from both sides on the need to mitigate climate change, in-line with trends since late 2014.
Interestingly, when U.S. officials visited South Korea and India in February, interactions with China were specifically mentioned within the context of regional relations. The direct diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and China was also given another strong shot-in-the-arm by the acceptance of an invitation by Xi Jinping of an official state visit to the U.S. to take place in 2015. China also comments on how it wants to keep working with the U.S. in helping to develop norms on preventing corruption in government.
However, as with any relationship, not everything is necessarily positive and signs of potential U.S. checking of China’s rise inevitably surfaces. U.S. Press Secretary Josh Earnest warns that if the U.S. does not engage in the Asia-Pacific region, China will be able to write the rules of the regional game, compromising the interests of U.S. companies in particular. This concern is also echoed in comments by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative who spare no euphemisms in criticizing China’s export subsidy program.
Intensifying Militarism in the Face of Extremism?
As the U.S. continues to raise its level of military action against ISIL, both the U.S. and China condemn the role of extremism in escalating conflicts around the world. Both are highly critical of terrorist attacks that occur in all regions including domestically as well as in Europe and other areas of the globe.
The U.S. once again demonstrates that it perhaps is concerned about China’s rise in this particular issue area, with a comment by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work highlighting what he sees as an “astonishing” expansion of the Chinese military program over recent years. To which China replies that it is mere defensive posturing. China goes on to mention that it is committed to what it calls the “opening-up” policy when it comes to its security rules on network information.
Not surprisingly, the issue of cyber security also looms large for both nations, and China in particular makes clear its commitment to working with the U.S. in establishing cooperative measures in regulating such activities, expressing its own concerns over accusations of U.S. and UK cyber-surveillance activities.
Moreover, the U.S. posits that the possible deployment of THAAD in the region is meant purely to enhance the defensive capabilities of U.S. troops in the area. This issue promises to become one of greater saliency over the next few months.
U.S.’ Regional Entanglement Leaving Room for China to Build Influence in Africa?
It is no secret that the U.S. continues to find itself entangled in a whole host of regional conflicts, none more so prominent that what is occurring in the Middle East. The U.S. claims that the job in the region, especially stopping the actions of ISIL is a responsibility that in which “nearly every country in the world has a role to play.” This message seemingly falls on deaf ears in Beijing as China makes no mention of any particular position in relation to aiding the fight against ISIL.
This apparent Chinese indifference is also reflected in its attitude toward the Korean Peninsula. While the U.S. are embroiled in a war-of-words with Pyongyang, as North Korea ratchets up its criticisms and threats in response to the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises, the Chinese choose to criticize the use of sanctions in dealing with the North. This is in sharp contrast to the U.S. position, of which the U.S makes clear that threats from Pyongyang are taken very seriously in Washington. With this backdrop, rather unsurreptitiously, China continues its courting of Africa, launching a diplomatic mission to the African Union in February. China also chooses to focus on the negotiation process with Iran over its nuclear program. Is U.S. entanglement continuing to present opportunities for China to extend its own interests? This continues to be a point of fascinating conjecture.
U.S. Is Not Checking the Rise of China and Territorial Disputes Still Lingering
The U.S. choosing to engage in the Asia-Pacific region is not an attempt to check the rise of China according to officials. As President Obama’s well broadcast trip to India unwound, state department officials were quick to highlight the importance of India and other nations in the Asia-Pacific to U.S. interests on their merits alone. China, in response says that it hopes U.S. policy and engagement in the region can “inject positive energy to peace and stability of the region.”
Also, the issue of Taiwan continues to ruffle a few feathers in Beijing. Following on from last month’s controversy over the raising of the Taiwanese flag in Washington D.C., China expresses its concerns over the issuance of new car plates to Taiwan’s representative office, although noting it is not a diplomatic one. China urges that the U.S. respect the “one-China policy” so as to “avoid any negative impact on China-U.S. relations.” The U.S. mentions that it stands behind its relationship with Taiwan and its continued efforts to “help ensure Taiwan can preserve its autonomy and manage its defense.”
The issue of Tibet also garners a mention from China, and although rather-muted, comparatively with past months, China continues to push the line that its position and actions over maritime disputes in the South China Sea is in fact lawful. China also asks that the U.S. honor its commitments and is told to “mind what it says and does” in behaving in a manner that is “conducive to the development of China-U.S. relations.” A veiled threat perhaps?
U.S. Testing China’s Commitment to International Norms?
The U.S. launched a case at the WTO to protest the Chinese export subsidy program, which it sees as disadvantageous to American businesses. Surprisingly, China makes no official mention of its position on this, rather, choosing to focus on opening up its own economic cooperation with the U.S.
In this issue, the U.S. also continues to highlight human rights violations across a wide variety of areas and regions. Humanitarian issues in North Korea, ISIL attacks on children in Iraq and the rights of LGBT people form the basis of U.S. focus on human rights. China offers its official support to the UN human rights regime. However, questions remain as to how serious this commitment from China really is...(Continued)
Introducing the UCR Briefing
The EAI is pleased to announce the expansion of the UCR Series with its renamed flagship publication called the UCR Briefing. The UCR Briefing combines the monthly publication of the UCR Factsheet with a probing investigative summary designed to raise potential points of discussion and analysis. Also, the previous format included a total of 10 categories that have now been streamlined to 9. The EAI believes that these changes will offer a better experience and easier navigation of the vast amount of information available to users of the UCR series.