As the U.S. and China seek to construct and modify international regimes, some issue areas are being marked by one or the other of the two trends in Sino-U.S. relations: cooperation and conflict. March 2016 continued to show these trends and their impact on various regimes clearly. The international regime on nuclear proliferation and safety is clearly developing under U.S. and Chinese cooperation as the two were able to agree on the resolution sanctioning North Korea for its recent nuclear test and worked closely during the Nuclear Security Summit at the end of the month. Unfortunately, however, the international regimes developed to prevent and adjudicate maritime disputes has been branded by conflict as the U.S. calls on China to abide by a treaty that the U.S. itself has not ratified and China seeks to solve these disputes outside of the international regime developed to manage them. The summary below of statements made by U.S. and Chinese officials in March 2016 shows the impact the two countries are having on the development of global governance in a variety of issue areas.
Sino-US Cooperation Helps Lead to Resolution 2270
On March 2, 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 in response to the North Korean nuclear test in January. Compared to the previous ones, the latest resolution was deemed to be tougher and more comprehensive as it imposes broad sanctions on sectors of the North Korean economy which are allegedly used by the government to fuel its nuclear and missile programs, and also targeted North Korean elites who benefit from such trades. China, considering that provocations may destabilize the region, welcomed the UN resolution as it stressed that sanctions should not be an end in themselves, reiterating the importance of dialogue for the denuclearization as well as the maintenance of peace and security on the Peninsula. The U.S. appears to be optimistic in its cooperation with China regarding the issue. On one occasion with Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa of Japan and Ambassador Oh Joon of the ROK, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers praised China for its contribution in the adoption of the resolution. President Obama also remarked that both he and President Xi are fully committed towards denuclearization and implementation of the sanctions.
Arbitration for South China Sea Dispute?
The Philippines has been persistent in recent months about convening a arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This proposal has been resoundingly rejected by the Chinese as it has insisted that the Philippines' proposal is illegal and invalid. Making matters worse, tensions rose as Filipino fisherman and the Chinese Coast Guard were again involved in an entanglement in early March. The U.S. continued its support for the Philippines and its proposal for arbitration under the UNCLOS treaty, but China continued to brush aside these statements by pointing out that the U.S. is not party to the agreement in the first place. The Chinese position was punctuated by a speech given by the Vice Foreign Minister Mr. Liu Zhenmin during which he clearly rejected the arbitration tribunal and continued Chinese position of insisting on bilateral negotiations to settle territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Room for Cooperation Found at Nuclear Security Summit
The fourth Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington D.C. at the end of March and this forum provided the U.S. and China the opportunity to focus on an issue in which they are largely in agreement. The two countries issued a joint statement on the first day of the summit declaring their intention to work together to “foster a peaceful and stable international environment by reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism and striving for a more inclusive, coordinated, sustainable and robust global nuclear security architecture for the common benefit and security of all.’’ Perhaps more hope inspiring however was the fact that the two countries were able to move beyond words as the Center for Excellence on Nuclear Security, a joint project between China and the U.S., opened its doors in Beijing during the weeks leading up to the Summit.
Conflicting Definitions of Human Rights
The U.S. and China have also long been at odds over the definition of universal human rights and how to govern globally the application of that definition. Based on the American understanding of the term, the U.S. continued to call on China to abide by global norms on free speech and freedom of the press. China had a very different opinion of its own human rights record and argued that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to human rights is unfeasible. China went on to press the U.S. on its own poor standards regarding torture, racisim, and policing. One aspect the two countries could agree on though was the need for supporting gender equality around the globe as both made statements confirming their committment to this goal at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
"Chinese Wisdom" for Syria?
Triggered by yet another terrible terrorist attack in Brussels, ISIL and Syria again dominated international politics in March. While the U.S. did not hide that it is still a long way from eradicating ISIL, the Secretary Kerry remained firm "that we continue to believe that Assad cannot be part of the future of Syria." For this to happen he urged for a clear abruption of Russian assistance to the regime. The U.S. repeatedly praised the close cooperation of the Global Coalition which facilitates the relatively stable ceasefire agreement throughout March. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Iranian missile test at the beginning of the month was clearly condemned as a violation against UN Resolution 2231 and the Vienna agreement which led the U.S. to "consider our appropriate national response." Though China's reactions to both incidences were in line with the U.S. side, they remained rather calm and repeated their urge for political rather than military solutions. In accordance with this perception, they appointed Xie Xiaoyan as Chinese Special Envoy for the Syrian issue who ought to "contribute Chinese wisdom and proposals"’ thus facilitating a more active Chinese contribution to a final settlement of the Syrian issue.
Issue 1 – U.S. – China Bilateral Relations: Both Countries Acknowledge the Continuing Presence of Cooperation and Conflict in Relations
Issue 2 – Economic Relations: The Two Countries Continue to Disagree About Chinese Steel Dumping and Both Countries Turn Their Eyes Toward 2016 G20 Summit
Issue 3 – Military and Security Relations: Both Countries Recognize the Importance of Preventing Nuclear Proliferation at the Nuclear Security Summit and Fighting Terrorism in the Wake of the Brussels Attacks
Issue 4 – Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues: U.S. Issues Broad Criticisms of Chinese Human Rights Record and Works to Strengthen Reporting of Sexual Explotation and Abuse by UN Peacekeepers; China Rebuffs U.S. Claims and Touts Efforts to Improve Gemder Equality
Issue 5 – Climate Change and Environmental Issues: U.S. Continues Efforts to Decrease Carbon Emmissions; China Seeks a Plan for Environmentally Sustainable Economic Growth
Issue 6 – Asia Pacific Issues: U.S. Continues to Seek Stronger Ties with Allies in Asia Pacific; China Strongly Criticizes Japanese Revisions to its Pacifist Constitution and Expresses Concerns about Increased Presence of U.S. Military in the Region
Issue 7 – Korean Peninsula: U.S. Continues to Highlight China’s Special Relationship with North Korea; China States it Will Faithfully Implement Sanctions Against North Korea, Opposes Introduction of THAAD to South Korea
Issue 8 – Middle East and Africa Issues: U.S. Continues to Insist on Regime Change in Syria and Emphasizes Need to Stop ISIL Following Brussels Attack; China Notes Continued Cooperation with U.S. on Peace Process in Afghanistan
Issue 9 – Sovereignty and Territorial Disputes: U.S. Urges China to Participate in Tribunals to Settle South China Sea Disputes, Continues to Argue Crimea Belongs to Ukraine; China Justifies Placing of Military Equipment in Nansha Islands and Refuses Multilateral Settings for Negotiations on Territorial Issues in South China Sea