With President Xi Jinping set to visit the U.S. in September, both sides seemed reluctant to strike a harsh chord that may cause distractions ahead of the important summit. But of course there were lingering scabs to pick at. In particular, China felt as if its old wounds were reopening given Japan’s lack of remorse over deeds committed during World War II as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the end of that destructive conflict. The U.S. still feels victimized by cyber attacks against its government and businesses and blames China for many of these injuries. Yet despite these rumblings, the two were able to maintain a civil relationship and move forward as they prepare for both the tough negotiations and the pomp and circumstance which will surely be a part of the upcoming state visit. Here we have summarized key issue areas emphasized by the U.S. and China during August 2015.
Ebbing China-Japan Relations
This month marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a closely watched statement reflecting on and expressing remorse over the role of Japan in the atrocities perpetrated during the war. China as well as South Korea were hoping Abe would not deviate from “the milestone 1995 speech by then Japanese prime minister Murayama Tomiichi.” In the end, however, the Chinese were very disappointed by not only Abe’s remarks, which were called an “ultra-right ‘freak show,’” but also by Japanese politicians’ decision to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. These statements stand in stark contrast to President Obama’s appraisal of Abe’s speech as he “commended the Prime Minister for his August 14 expression of deep remorse for the suffering caused by Japan during the World War II era.” In addition to the tensions caused by history issues between China and Japan, the alleged oil exploration efforts in the East China Sea by China has caused diplomats and officials on both sides to make harsh comments. For the moment, China-Japan relations have definitely ebbed which does not bode well for U.S.-China relations either.
South China Sea Positions Set in Stone?
The 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was held on August 6, 2015 and this event served as an opportunity for the sharing of positions on the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea in addition to a host of other issues including the North Korean nuclear issue. The U.S. used the opportunity to call on parties to seek arbitration through The Hague or Law of the Sea. In addition, the U.S. continued to strongly assert its right to navigate the seas freely with Secretary of Defense Carter stating bluntly, “The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits.” China, on the other hand, argued that ARF was not a proper platform for discussing the South China Sea issues and hoped to resolve the issues through bilateral talks with individual countries. The positions of both countries seem to have solidified and neither appears to be willing to budge any time soon.
As Korean Peninsula Heats Up, China and U.S. Remain Calm
North Korean provocations led to a tense confrontation between South and North Korea in late August. As the situation unfolded, the U.S. reaffirmed its continuous commitment to security of South Korea on the basis of the U.S.-ROK alliance. China took a neutral position simply stating it “opposes any action that may escalate tension.” The situation eventually cooled down after long talks and in the end South and North Korea were able to reach an agreement which was welcomed by the U.S. While a more serious crisis was avoided for the time being, China also called for efforts on the North Korean nuclear issue in a similar fashion to the painstaking diplomatic process that eventually produced the Iranian nuclear deal.
Cyberspace at the Center of Bilateral Relations
Accusations of cyber attacks by the U.S. against China are leaving a bad taste in everybody’s mouth as resolution seems unlikely. The U.S. government did not back down this month and stated, “We remain deeply concerned about Chinese Government-sponsored cyber-enabled theft of confidential business information and proprietary technology from U.S. companies.” The U.S. also stuck by its indictment of five Chinese military officers in connection to hacks against U.S. companies in the nuclear and solar energy industries in May 2014. China also had these indictments in mind and warned the U.S. not to make any similar mistakes, while Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying stated in a more diplomatic manner that the issue of cyber security “should be a source of cooperation rather than confrontation for the two countries.” This issue will likely be a focus during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington D.C. in September and remain a sticky subject for some time.
A Ray of Sunshine Through the Smog
U.S.-China relations are not all doom and gloom and one area that continues to see significant levels of cooperation is environmental policy. President Obama touted this cooperation in his weekly address on August 29, 2015 by saying, “Since the United States and China worked together to set ambitious climate targets last year, leading by example, many of the world’s biggest emitters have come forward with new climate plans of their own.” The People’s Daily also highlighted the cooperation on the environment between the two great powers. This cannot be classified as pure rhetoric either as both governments have individually emphasized recent steps they have been taking to clean up air pollution in their respective countries providing hope that the two can clean up their act in other issue areas as well.
Time Period: August 1 ~ August 31
1. U.S.-China Bilateral Relations: U.S. and China Exchange Points of View on Presenece of Chinese Agents in the U.S.; U.S. Seeks Cooperation during Xi Visit on Cyber Security
3. U.S.-China Military and Security Relations: U.S. Vows that its Focus of its Secuirty Policy will Remain in the Asia-Pacific Region; China Renounces the U.S. for Baseless Accusations of Cyber Attacks
6. Asia-Pacific Issues: U.S. and China Hold Strikingly Different Positions on Abe’s Statement; U.S. Seeks to Closer Relations with ASEAN while China Vows to Settle South China Sea Disputes with ASEAN Countries Individually
9. Sovereignty and Territorial Issues: U.S. Continues to Assert its Right to Freely Navigate in the South China Sea; China Continues to Deny Phillipino Calls to Settle South China Sea Territorial Dispute Through a Tribunal and Seeks Cooperation with ASEAN Countries Despite Territorial Disputes