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China-U.S. Relations

Some say the United States and China both need an enemy because fear of the enemy, or metus hostilis, would enhance domestic cohesion. In the first century BC, the Roman historian Sallust wrote that the republic had descended into internal strife because of the destruction of its enemy, Carthage, in the Third Punic War. Without an adversary, Romans turned their knives inward: “when the minds of the people were relieved of that dread [of Carthage], wantonness and arrogance naturally arose.”

“The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” Kurt Campbell, the U.S. coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, said 26 May 2021 at Stanford University. Beijing's behavior was emblematic of a shift toward "harsh power, or hard power" which "signals that China is determined to play a more assertive role," he said. Campbell said Xi Jinping was at the heart of the new US approach to China. He described the Chinese president was “deeply ideological, but also quite unsentimental” and “not terribly interested in economics.” Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has “almost completely disassembled nearly 40 years of mechanisms designed for collective leadership.”

The China-US competition is heating up. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described China-US relations as "competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be." The last global realignment took place immediately following WWII. Washington wants to hold on its global dominance for as long as possible while Beijing is eagerly working to supplant the US’s superpower status, first in Asia, then in Africa and the Middle East. The Chinese strategy in achieving its objectives is quite clear: unlike the US’s disproportionate investments in military power, China is keen on winning its coveted status, at least for the time being, using soft power only.

In China, the period between 1842 and 1949, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded and the country ceased to march to the beat of a Western drum, is called the “century of humiliation.” Even now, Chinese President Xi Jinping only expects China to have caught up with the West once again by 2049, a century after the country resumed its course of development.

China has warned the US against starting a new cold war and said it's not trying to replace America's role in the world.Their already patchy trade relations have worsened in recent weeks. Many are saying the Phase One deal reached by the US and China was precarious to begin with and there's little chance of it being renegotiated. China had weakened its currency to its lowest level since 2008 after renewed threats from the US to slap fresh tariffs on the Chinese economy. China was committed to increasing energy imports from the US but this doesn't look likely.

The US intervened in China twice in the 19th century, helping the British to take the key trading city of Guangzhou in the Second Opium War and then sending troops as part of the multi-national imperialist effort to crush the Boxer Rebellion, the widespread 1899-1902 rebellion against the Western powers that had all but taken over China. At home, in 1882, the US also passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all immigration from China - again, on the argument that such immigrants posed a threat to the integrity of American society. The law was not fully repealed until 1965.

After the Communist Party of China won the civil war against the Republic of China, which then became Taiwan, the CIA reportedly spent nearly $100 million funding a guerrilla force inside the new PRC. The CIA also had an entire program aimed at destabilizing Tibet by funding guerrilla forces there - a program US President Richard Nixon only abandoned in 1971 - and the US has provided extensive support to Taiwan, even after legally acknowledging the PRC as the sole legitimate government of all of China in 1979.

In 2015, Beijing unveiled a strategic plan called “Made in China 2025”. It set out a roadmap for establishing China as the world’s top player in key industries, but also triggered the country’s ongoing tensions with Washington. The latest developments could compound that situation. Some experts say Xi was using the friction to further strengthen his grip on power. At the same time, many people believe his policies to promote innovation are the key to making China a global powerhouse.

The American approach to China since the start of "reform and opening up" in the early 1980s was based on the premise that trade and engagement with China would eventually produce a peaceful, democratic state. Successive American presidents facilitated the peaceful rise of China. The Communist Party of China led the West to believe that the its system and the Party-ruled People's Liberation Army were peaceful and posed no threat.

With the advent of Xi Jinping, the hope of promoting a benign People's Republic of China appears to have failed. In fact, these policies produced the emergence of a 21st Century Evil Empire at least as dangerous as the Cold War Soviet version. This revisionist nuclear-armed communist dictatorship was focused on a single overriding strategic objective: overturning the hegemoney of the United States of America. Defeating the United States was the first step in achieving global hegemony in a new world order centered on China and based an ideology of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics Under Modern Conditions.

Along the way technology theft from American companies took place on a massive scale through cyber theft and unfair trade practices. The losses directly supported in the buildup of the Chinese military that now threatens American and allied interests around the world. The military threat was only half the danger as China aggressively pursues regional and international control using a variety of non-military forces, including economic, cyber and space warfare and large-scale influence operations.

By 2020 the US/PRC strategic competition had entered a new phase with no certain endpoint or predictable end-state. US national security strategy and DoD planning, budgets and programs are making a shift not seen since the end of the Cold War. DoD had long thought China was an emerging military threat that would require adjustments in US defense policy. This view reached a new level of concern/awareness under the Trump Administration. China was now viewed in many ways as a military "peer" with credible capabilities in specific areas that have been purposely pursued to negate US & allied military advantages in the Pacific.

China created an impression of power, and it was not clear how the US administration would proceed with China: by 2009 there was the impression of a shift within the US administration towards greater accommodation of China. The American reaction to the USS Impeccable incident in March 2009 showed a disconnect, and created the impression that the US felt the need to accommodate the Chinese. It looked like the US was adjusting to a new reality. The US response to the Impeccable fed into China's efforts to create an impression of power that might be used to coerce other nations.

During the course of the November 2014 APEC Summit in Beijing, the US and China signed a series of agreements in the military sphere that will help the two countries reduce the risk of a military confrontation in Eastern Asia. The agreements establish a framework for cooperation in the event that either side takes any large-scale military actions, requiring the parties to inform each other in advance of any such steps. The document also sets out a code of conduct to be followed if U.S. or Chinese military air or naval units come into contact with each other.

The countries decided to sign the agreement because lately there had been an increase in incidents (in particular, China's inclusion of the East China Sea territory in its air defense zone) that are capable of placing Beijing and Washington on the verge of a conflict that would be disadvantageous for both sides.

The Democratic Party’s proposed platform criticizes China’s trade practices, proposes less spending on national defense, and opposes “forever wars” as it seeks to lay out the party’s foreign policy goals and highlight differences with President Donald Trump. China became one of the central foreign policy issues in the 2020 presidential race, heightened by President Donald Trump’s trade war with the country as well as the coronavirus pandemic, which originated there. In their party platform, Democrats took a strong stance against China’s trade policies and sought to portray Trump’s efforts against the country as not tough enough.

"The Trump Administration has failed time after time to deliver for American workers on this crucial issue, siding with corporate interests over our workers and launching a trade war with China that they have no plan for winning—creating incredible hardship for American farmers, manufacturers, workers, and consumers in the process….

"Democrats will take aggressive action against China or any other country that tries to undercut American manufacturing by manipulating their currencies and maintaining a misaligned exchange rate with the dollar, dumping products like steel and aluminum in our markets, or providing unfair subsidies. Unlike President Trump, we will stand up to efforts from China and other state actors to steal America’s intellectual property and will demand China and other countries cease and desist from conducting cyberespionage against our companies.... We will build on this foundation to negotiate arms control agreements that reflect the emergence of new players like China, capture new technologies, and move the world back from the nuclear precipice....

"Democrats believe that if the United States does not work with its allies and partners to shape the terms of global trade, China will shape them for us—and American working families and the middle class will pay the price. That’s why we will work with our allies to mobilize more than half the world’s economy to stand up to China and negotiate from the strongest possible position.

"Democrats believe the China challenge is not primarily a military one, but we will deter and respond to aggression. We will underscore our global commitment to freedom of navigation and resist the Chinese military’s intimidation in the South China Sea. Democrats are committed to the Taiwan Relations Act and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.

"Rather than stand with President Xi Jinping as he cracks down on Hong Kong’s autonomy, Democrats will stand for the democratic rights of its citizens. We will fully enforce the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, including by sanctioning officials, financial institutions, companies, and individuals responsible for undercutting Hong Kong’s autonomy. And we will bring the world together to condemn the internment of more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in concentration camps in China, using the tools provided by the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act."

Biden claimed credit for paving the way to the Paris Agreement by convincing China to enter into an earlier landmark climate deal with the United States, in 2014. But his rhetoric changed in recent years as U.S.-China relations have deteriorated. In a June 2020 op-ed in Foreign Affairs, Biden said his climate agenda would include “insisting that China — the world’s largest emitter of carbon — stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars’ worth of dirty fossil fuel energy projects through its Belt and Road Initiative.”

"To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, the United States must sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices and reduce inequality.... The United States does need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property. It will also keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage—and a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future."

At a Democratic campaign event in Florida in October 2018, Biden said the U.S. was "better positioned than any nation in the world to own the 21st century," adding that China is "a divided country in 1,000 ways ... Don't tell me China's going to own America. It's not possible."

"China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man — They can't even figure out how to deal with the fact that they have this great division between the China Sea and the mountains in the West. They can't figure out how they’re going to deal with the corruption that exists within the system. They’re not bad folks, folks … They’re not competition for us." Biden said at a campaign stop in Iowa on 02 May 2019.

On 22 May 2020 Biden said "For more than three years, President Trump has given Xi Jinping and autocrats around the world a pass on human rights. Trump has repeatedly turned a blind eye to China’s deepening repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and throughout China. In fact, just last November, Donald Trump declared that he was “standing with Xi Jinping” on Hong Kong and praised China’s leaders for acting “very responsibly.” Now we see the consequences: leaders in Beijing are proposing a law to further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the rights of its citizens. It is no surprise China’s government believes it can act with impunity to violate its commitments. The Administration’s protests are too little, too late — and Donald Trump has conspicuously had very little to say. We need to be clear, strong, and consistent on values when it comes to China. That’s what I’ll do as president."

“Right now, by every key metric, China’s strategic position is stronger, and America’s strategic position is weaker,” Antony Blinken, now U.S. secretary of state, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce two months before the November 2020 presidential election.

President-elect Joe Biden planned to sign a series of executive orders soon after being sworn into office on 20 January 2021, demonstrating that the country’s politics had shifted and that his presidency would be guided by new priorities.

  • Biden said on Day One he’ll reassure the US’s allies that “we’re back and you can count on us again.”
  • rejoin the Paris climate accords
  • reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization
  • repeal the ban on almost all travel from some Muslim-majority countries
  • reinstate the program allowing “dreamers,” who were brought to the USA illegally as children, to remain in the country,

But pushing major legislation through Congress could prove to be a challenge. In a 14 July 2020 speech, Biden promised that if elected, he would reverse Trump’s rollbacks used to enable fossil fuel extraction, like orders that allowed oil and gas companies to speed through permitting processes for new pipelines. Biden could also issue a number of his own executive orders to reduce extraction, like directing the Department of the Interior to halt oil and gas leases and fracking on federal lands.

Voice of America reported a list of US president-elect Joe Biden's potential advisors on China policies, including former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken, former ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Kurt Campbell, deputy director at the Center for a New American Security Ely Ratner, former national security advisors Jake Sullivan, Susan Rice and Thomas Donilon. According to their resumes, almost all of them come from the administration of former president Barack Obama.

Donilon in 2019 published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, arguing that US incumbent President Donald Trump's trade war is "the wrong way to compete with China," and the US should focus on renewal, rather than protectionism. Blinken said in September that, "China's strategic position is stronger and ours is weaker as a result of President Trump's leadership." He also said that Trump left "a vacuum in the world for China to fill." Campbell and Sullivan wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2019 that, "the goal should be to establish favorable terms of coexistence with Beijing in four key competitive domains - military, economic, political and global governance."

Judging from the narratives from these advisors, the goal of Biden administration's China policy is almost identical to that of the Trump administration, albeit more tactfully stated. The Biden administration will continue to regard China as its main rival, seeing China as the biggest threat to maintain its position as a global hegemony. However, Biden will differ from Trump on dealing with this challenge.

Blinken said Trump had weakened American alliances, abandoned US values and gave China a green light to trample on so-called human rights and democracy. This reflects the reality that the Biden administration will underline human rights and democracy, and will create an ideological alliance by uniting its allies such as Europe, Japan and South Korea in a bid to pile pressure on China.

On 13 November 2020 Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Americans from investing in Chinese firms the administration says are owned by or controlled by China’s military. The order covers 31 Chinese firms that Washington said "enable the development and modernisation" of China's military and "directly threaten" US security.

Karen Freifeld writing for Reuters reported 22 November 2020 that Commerce Department had drafted a list of 117 Russian and Chinese aerospace companies it intended to designate as military end users, which would complicate U.S. exports to those companies. Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) and Aviation Industry of China (AVIC), China's two largest aerospace firms, were on the list. The enterprises have joint ventures with US companies. COMAC builds the C919, a single-aisle aircraft that competes with the Boeing B737 and the Airbus A320. COMAC uses a number of American key components and engines for the C919. U.S. companies would need export licenses to supply designated companies. Those licenses could be granted, but there is a presumption of denial. Designating 89 Chinese aerospace companies as "military end users" might be difficult to undo.

China said 02 Janaury 2021 that it would take necessary countermeasures after the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) began delisting securities of three Chinese telecommunications companies. The NYSE announced earlier this week that it would halt the trading in shares of China Mobile Ltd., China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. and China Telecom Corp Ltd. by January 11. The stock exchange said it took the decision because of the executive order from US President Donald Trump that barred Americans from investing in firms with ties to the Chinese military. All three telco companies are state-run enterprises that operate under Beijing's firm control. They are the only three companies in China that are allowed to provide broad-band telecommunication services, an industry the government believes should remain under state control.

Biden used his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief 10 February 2021 to announce the formation of a new Defense Department China Task Force, charged with reexamining the U.S. approach in areas from strategy and force posture to technology and intelligence. “The task force will work quickly, drawing on civilian and military experts across the department to provide within the next few months recommendations to [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin on key priorities and decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters," Biden told reporters.

A March 2021 Pew poll found that Americans express substantial concern when asked about eight specific issues in the U.S.-China relationship. About three-quarters or more say that each issue is at least somewhat serious. Still, four problems stand out for being ones that half or more describe as very serious: cyberattacks from China, the loss of U.S. jobs to China, China’s growing military power and China’s policies on human rights. Tensions between mainland China and Hong Kong or Taiwan are seen as less serious problems for most Americans. While about three-quarters say these two geopolitical issues are at least somewhat serious problems, only about three-in-ten say they are very serious.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi elaborated China's three bottom lines in effectively managing and controlling divergences in China-US relations

    the US should not challenge, smear or seek to subvert the Chinese path and system should not seek to interrupt or disrupt China's development should not violate China's national sovereignty or territorial integrity
during his meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on 26 July 2021 during Sherman's visit to north China's port city of Tianjin. Such a proactive way of laying out Beijing's bottom lines and elaborating major concerns to Washington followed a hardline diplomatic approach, first used at the China-US Alaska meeting in March 2021. On 26 July 2021 Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng handed down a "List of US Wrongdoings that Must Stop" and a "List of Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns". This came in a meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, who is in-charge of the US-China relations. In the List of U.S. Wrongdoings that Must Stop, China urged the United States to:
  • unconditionally revoke the visa restrictions over Communist Party of China (CPC) members and their families
  • revoke sanctions on Chinese leaders, officials and government agencies
  • remove visa restrictions on Chinese students
  • stop suppressing Chinese enterprises
  • stop harassing Chinese students
  • stop suppressing the Confucius Institutes
  • revoke the registration of Chinese media outlets as "foreign agents" or "foreign missions"
  • revoke the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou

In the "List of Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns", China expressed serious concerns to the United States on some key individual cases, including:

  • some Chinese students' visa applications being rejected
  • Chinese citizens receiving unfair treatment in the United States
  • Chinese diplomatic and consular missions being harassed and rammed into by perpetrators in the United States
  • growing anti-Asian and anti-China sentiment
  • Chinese citizens suffering violent attacks

China has been more proactive in handling relations with the US. In the past, it was the US bringing up the lists toward which China responded. By taking the initiative, Chinese officials also demonstrated a 'new normal' in diplomacy. This solidified an important posture adjustment in China's approach to dealing with the US that began with the Anchorage talks: We will no longer make unilateral efforts to maintain the public opinion atmosphere in China-US relations.

The fundamental reason for the deadlock in China-US relations is that some in the US always see China as an "imaginary enemy," Xie told Sherman. "Washington has been trying to contain China, thinking that will solve its problems, as if the only way for the US to become great again is to contain China's development," Xie said.

The US hope may be that "by demonizing China, it could somehow shift domestic public discontent over political, economic and social issues and blame China for its own structural problems. It seems that a whole-of-government and whole-of-society campaign is being waged to bring China down," Xie told Sherman at the meeting. Before Sherman's visit to Tianjin, China used its newly enacted Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law for the first time to impose reciprocal sanctions on six US individuals and one entity, including former US secretary of commerce Wilbur Louis Ross. China seems to have no worries that this may affect the atmosphere of the Tianjin talks during Sherman's visit.

An unsigned editorial in Global Times [ie, representing the official Chinese Communist Party line], stated "Chinese society has become fed up with the bossy US and we hold no more illusion that China and the US would substantially improve ties in the foreseeable future. The Chinese public strongly supports the government to safeguard national dignity in its ties with the US and firmly push back the various provocations from the US. In the face of the malicious China containment and confrontational policy adopted by the two recent US administrations, the Chinese people are willing to form a united front, together bear the consequences of not yielding to the US, and win for the country's future through struggles. In other words, Chinese society would unconditionally support whatever tough counterattacks the Chinese government would launch in the face of US-initiated conflicts in all directions toward China. The US should abandon forever the idea of changing China's system and policies through sanctions, containment and intimidation.

"China must accelerate the building of its comprehensive strength and prepare for the worst-case scenario of escalating confrontation with the US and its main allies. The US wants to use strategic containment to crush China, and we must use continuous development and strength building to crush the US' will."

The Deputy Secretary raised concerns in private about a range of PRC actions that run counter to American values and interests and those of allies and partners, and that undermine the international rules-based order. In particular, she raised concerns about

  • human rights, including Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong
  • the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang
  • abuses in Tibet
  • the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press
  • Beijing’s conduct in cyberspace
  • the Taiwan Strait
  • the East and South China Seas.
  • the cases of American and Canadian citizens detained in the PRC or under exit bans
  • the PRC’s unwillingness to cooperate with the World Health Organization and allow a second phase investigation in the PRC into COVID-19’s origins

At the same time, the Deputy Secretary affirmed the importance of cooperation in areas of global interest, such as the climate crisis, counternarcotics, nonproliferation, and regional concerns including DPRK, Iran, Afghanistan, and Burma.

A rare extended virtual meeting between the top leaders of the world's two major powers on 15 November 2021 concluded with the leaders agreeing on two consensuses in principle such as rejecting a new cold war and reaffirming the importance of China-US relations. Chinese President Xi Jinping had thorough and in-depth communication and exchanges with US President Joe Biden in a face-to-face virtual meeting between the two leaders which lasted three-and-a-half hours. It was a highly expected and closely watched interaction after the two leaders spoke twice on the phone, in February and September, since Biden became US President.

During the meeting, which came at the request of the US, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out three principles and four priorities for growing bilateral ties in the new era. In terms of principles, the two countries first need to respect each other's social systems and development paths, respect each other's core interests and major concerns, and respect each other's right to development. They also need to treat each other as equals, keep differences under control, and seek common ground while reserving differences. The other two principles include peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.

Xi demonstrated Beijing's "high-minded manner and full confidence in pushing Washington to correct mistakes that have led the bilateral relationship to deviate in recent years", Chinese experts said. Beijing drew up several red lines not only on matters related to sovereignty like the Taiwan question but also those concerning its social system and development path. After the struggles in recent years, China is now trying to push the US to correct and reset its problematic policy toward China, and this is China's new diplomatic stance "from the position of the strength" and "on a fair and equal basis," experts said.

There were major differences in Chinese and US readouts following the virtual meeting. In a shorter statement from the White House, compared to the nearly 4,000-word Chinese statement, Biden recognized the importance of managing strategic risks as well as "the need for common-sense guardrails to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict." Chinese top leader drew up several red lines for the US not only concerning sovereignty-related matters like the Taiwan question, but also on China's social system and development path, with Biden reiterating that the US does not seek to change China's system, the revitalization of its alliances is not anti-China, and the US has no intention to have a conflict with China.

The Biden administration announced 06 December 2021 a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. No government officials will attend. US athletes will still be allowed to compete. The Biden administration decided on a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games because of the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and other issues.

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Page last modified: 19-12-2021 19:24:41 ZULU