US-China Relations: What to Know

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[Follow live updates on the upcoming meeting between President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping.]

No relationship is shaping the planet more. And no relationship simmers, through such a broad and consequential series of issues, with more tension and mistrust.

The United States and China deeply disagree on how people and economies should be governed. The two powers vie for influence beyond their shores, compete in technology, and maneuver for military advantage on earth, in outer space Other in cyberspace. But they are also important trading and trading partners, making their rivalry more complex than that of the Cold War, to which it is sometimes compared.

That complexity will be at play when President Biden holds a virtual vertex with the top Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

Antony J. Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, called the management of relations with China “the the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century “. Yet China has angered American politicians since Mao’s armies took control of the nation – they “liberated” it, in Communist Party parlance – in 1949.

In the decades that followed, the party wreaked havoc on the economy. Then the government changed course and China got much, much richer. Now, Mr. Xi, the leader of China since 2013, wants to restore the nation’s primacy in the global order.

The East is rising, “Mr. Xi said,” and the West is in decline. “

Here are the main fronts of the contest that is defining this era.

The United States has used its naval and air force to impose order across the Pacific region since the end of World War II – this is not a state of affairs that China will accept in the long term.

As China built its military presence in region, the Biden administration sought to expand America’s alliances with Australia, Japan, India and other nations. Beijing considers these actions as dangerous provocations aimed at securing Americans “hegemony. “

An important potential flash point is Taiwan, the democratic and autonomous island that the Communist Party considers Chinese territory. Mr. Xi promised to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, a project that includes bringing Taiwan under Chinese control. China has flown more and more warplanes in the airspace near Taiwan, recalling that he never ruled out the annexation of the island by force.

American presidents have long been vague about how vigorously the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense. This “strategic ambiguity” is meant to avoid provoking Beijing and signaling to the island’s leaders that they shouldn’t declare independence with the idea that America has their back.

Even so, the administrations of Biden and former President Donald J. Trump have stepped up US support for Taiwan. American warships crossed the Taiwan Strait. Small squads of troops conducted training with the Taiwanese army.

Asked in October whether the US would protect Taiwan, Biden bluntly said, “Yes, we have a commitment to do so.”

The White House he said quickly his remark did not represent a change in US policy.

The trade war initiated by the Trump administration is technically on hiatus. But Biden’s team continued to protest China’s economic policies that led Trump to start imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, including Beijing’s broad support for steel, solar cells, computer chips and other domestic industries.

“These policies have reinforced a zero-sum dynamic in the world economy,” Katherine Tai, US trade representative, said in October, adding that “China’s growth and prosperity come at the expense of workers and economic opportunities here in the United States.”

The cycle of tariffs and counter-tariffs that began in 2018 showed how interconnected the economies of the two countries are and how vulnerable they remain if one party goes further to “decouple” them.

The fight against tariffs has prompted Xi to declare that the Chinese economy must be driven primarily by domestic demand and internal innovation and only secondarily by exports, in what he calls a “double circulation“Strategy.

Beijing officials say that doesn’t mean China is closing the door on foreign investment and foreign goods. But the climate of economic nationalism has already ignited new interests and investments in local brands. Chinese consumers are increasingly intolerant of foreign companies that do not follow the party line Hong Kong, Tibet Other Other burning issues or are otherwise viewed as disrespectful to China.

As a result, Hollywood studios almost stopped producing films featuring Chinese villains. One of the most recent Chinese blockbusters, a government sponsored epic, celebrates a bloody victory over the Americans during the Korean War.

The internet giants of Silicon Valley have mostly been excluded from China for years. The last to leave was Microsoft’s LinkedIn, which in October He gave up trying to operate his service under Beijing’s censorship requirements.

Many other American tech companies still do big business in China, including Apple, Tesla, Qualcomm and Intel. This feeds all sorts of concerns in Washington: that Chinese agents are stealing technology and corporate secrets; that the products they manufacture in China are vulnerable to cyber interference; who are compromising the professed values ​​by playing by the rules of Beijing.

It is a vicious circle. The paralysis of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, by the Trump administration has made Beijing more aware of how easily the United States can use its economic power to limit China’s access to advanced technology.

“Technological innovation has become the main battlefield in the global strategic game,” Mr. Xi said a lecture in May. China, he has said several times in recent years, needs to implement “self-sufficiency. “

This, in turn, has made US officials even more careful to prevent sensitive American know-how from falling into the hands of the Chinese. Washington agencies are taking a closer look at Chinese technology investments in the United States. Chinese-born scientists working in America were arrested on allegations of hiding ties to the Chinese state, although the Justice Department has fallen off some of those cases.

For decades, Communist Party leaders have raged against external criticism of their authoritarian rule, calling it intrusions on national sovereignty. But since the party under Mr. Xi has doubled his iron-fisted approach to dissent, China’s clashes with the United States over values ​​and freedoms have become more frequent.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over Beijing’s harsh response to the 2019 democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Commerce Department restricted U.S. exports to companies involved in Chinese repression in Xinjiang, the northwestern region where hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities have been detained for re-education and indoctrination.

Beijing officials insist that America must not see China’s rise as a threat. In the month of SeptemberChina’s foreign minister Wang Yi told Mr. Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry that America’s “great strategic misjudgment” was at the root of the deterioration in relations between the two nations.

Mr. Wang quoted a Chinese saying: “He who tied the knot must untie it.”

“The ball is now in America’s court,” Wang said.

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