Xi-Trump rapprochement?

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S Qamar A Rizvi

CHINESE President Xi has recently visited the United States. The first summit between the two leaders has been highly significant given the size and influence of the two nations at the global stage, and their growing competition over issues such as North Korean nuclear proliferation, East Asian maritime security disputes, bilateral trade and investment imbalances and the direction of the global economy.
The meeting arranged between the two heads of states does release the signals that a degree of candid pacification of disputes between Washington and Beijing might be dealt with mutual understanding and cooperation. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touted the first summit between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies as a success and said Trump and Xi enjoyed “very frank, very candid” discussions that were “very positive.” The officials signalled that the trading relationship between the two countries and North Korea’s nuclear program were at the top of the agenda during the meetings, which took place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
“The two sides noted the urgency of the threat of North Korea’s weapons program, reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearised Korean Peninsula and committed to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions,” Tillerson said. They agreed to increase cooperation and work with the international community to convince the [North Korea] to peacefully resolve the issue and abandon its illicit weapons programs.
As appeared that President Trump pressed for more economic punishment against North Korea for its expanding nuclear weapons program. Trump showed his strong reservations over China against building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea and also questioned the ‘One-China’policy relating to Taiwan. The two countries’ common interests seem to have been expanding rather than shrinking, the joint statement said.
The highly anticipated US-China summit was upstaged by US missile strikes against a Syrian air base from which Trump said a deadly chemical weapon attack had been launched. It was the first direct US assault on the Russian-backed government of Bashar al Assad in six years of civil war. The swift action in Syria, particularly the timing is tantamount to conveying a message especially to defiant nuclear-armed North Korea and by extension, its ally China as well as other countries like Iran and Russia of Trump’s willingness to use military force if deemed necessary.
China is pragmatically sided with Russia at the United Nations in opposing condemnation of Assad’s government but has not become directly involved in the conflict. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China opposed the use of chemical weapons by any party under any circumstances but didn’t comment on the US attack. “Currently, the world economy needs a strong engine to lead to stronger development and faster growth, it’s inescapable responsibility for China and the United States to do this, rather than heading toward a trade war,” Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the United States, said. With Trump’s decision to quit the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP), Cui said China cannot take over the US role as the global leader who makes trade rules.” I think this is a misleading notion, because international trade rules cannot be made by the United States or China alone, and rather, they should be made and implemented by all nations in the world,” Cui said. As for the American experts, they also see a positive outcome of the latest Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) between the two sides. Experts say China is not likely to shake its non-market economy (NME) status under the WTO’s rules. But the move still flies in the face of campaign rhetoric that suggested US trade policy would be trending in the opposite direction.
The expert view suggests military options against North Korea are much riskier than those against Syria. Today, the maritime dispute between the US and China has become the most driving issue in their complex relationship. The larger conflict, however, revolves around China’s emergence as a major regional power and America’s insistence on policing the Pacific affiliated area. Chinese President Xi Jinping has had repeatedly pointed out this system— evolved in the post WWII period— favours America and prevents Beijing from taking its rightful place as the dominant power in Asia.
And at a time when China’s economy is slowing, President Xi seems to be under increased pressure at home to find other ways to demonstrate China’s advances under his leadership. However, the Chinese Global Times, responding to the remarks of American politicians, said that although the bilateral relationship really has been on a “trend towards co-operation, there nevertheless remain sources for mutual suspicion, and still too many opportunities to slide into conflict”. However, the sinusoid ally growing US-China relationship shows some signs of global cooperation. But the core future relationship scenario between Washington and Beijing largely depends on the accommodation the two sides offer regarding the handling of the key issues and the very possibility of endorsing the objectives and strategies of the two leading world powers in the region and world at large.
And yet the most striking question arises: How could the seemingly US-China rapprochement— in the wake of astute Chinese entry into the Middle East, and given the ramification of a zero sum game indoctrinated by the US perceived strategic pivot to Asia(aiming at US’s anti-China perspective); and Xi Jinxing’s resolve that China is committed to moving on the path of peaceful development and will never give up its legitimate rights and will not trade key national interests– be ever translated into real terms? And not surprisingly, the US Navy is expected to conduct sustained freedom of navigation operations to reassert its power vis-à-vis China’s claims in South China Sea.
Trump is likely to put strategic pressure on regional allies, particularly Japan and Australia, to contribute more to multilateral efforts aimed at countering China’s expanding maritime power. As for the global community, there is no shrouded truth about China’s policy of peaceful coexistence richly reflected by Beijing’s praiseworthy role of expanding peaceful development. At the global stage, China’s soft power doctrine is getting an encouraging pace by slowly leaving behind hard-power US’s role in global affairs.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.
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