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Dialogue, Mutual Respect & Mutual Trust bracing Sino-U.S. Relations

Wang Li

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Authors: Wang Li & Fan Yao-tian

During August 15-17, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited China, which was followed by the signing of the framework to build a new dialogue mechanism between two joint staff departments.

Since the JSD plays a crucial role in actual combat operations, experts said the mechanism would strengthen effective communication between the two powers, reduce miscalculations on both sides and improve risk management in view of Asia’s increasingly complex geopolitical climate. Equally, top military officials of the two countries agreed to develop military relations and exchanges amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula along with South China Sea and the Taiwan issue.

Gen. Dunford was not only the first top U.S. military official to visit China since Trump came to office, but also the timing of his visit is highly complex and sensitive due to the provocative moves by the DPRK (North Korea), deployment of THAAD by the U.S in the ROK (South Korea), and President Trump’s order on August 14 to investigate China’s trade practice, heralding a possible trade war. Considering all the happening, Dunford’s visit to China has drawn keen attention around the world.

Over the past months, a series of nuclear and missile tests conducted by the DPRK and the looming threat have left the United States frustrated; and Japan and the ROK worried. The complaints over the restlessness of the DPRK emerging from the nuclear-related tests have consistently embarrassed China since it is the only de jure ally of Pyongyang. In early August, the DPRK military stated it would complete a plan to strike the sea around Guam by mid-August. Following that, the US responded firmly if the DPRK does anything against or attack its allies or the US itself, things will happen to the DPRK like it never opined possible. Given this, Chinese President Xi Jinping made phone call to his U.S. counterpart to assure Trump that China was willing to keep all communications with the U. S. on the basis of mutual respect and jointly work for the proper resolution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

As always in international relations, diplomacy makes farce if no force is backed up; but force only makes catastrophe with no sound diplomacy. Since China has disputed with the United States and the ROK on the THAAD issue, the leaders of Beijing have smartly and swiftly approached their closest strategic partner — Russia. On the same day of Gen. Dunford’s arrival in Beijing, Chinese FM Wang Yi held phone talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia at request, mainly exchanging views on the current Korean Peninsula situation. The two FMs reiterated that the peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is the only way acceptable to both China and Russia; and vowed to permit no one to stir up incidents on China and Russia’s doorstep. Yet, both powers would make joint endeavor to cool down the “August crisis” including to “put the brakes” on mutually irritating rhetoric and actions between the DPRK and the U.S.A. Afterwards, FM Wang Yi also made phone talk with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who indicated full supports to China’s “suspension for suspension” proposal and called on all parties concerned to strive to promote a peaceful settlement of the issue.

With Russia and Germany standing behind, China confidently approached the United States to discuss the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Frankly speaking, while Beijing and Pyongyang enjoy political and cultural proximity, there have been no meetings between the leadership of the two sides since Kim came to power. It should be recalled that when Kim conducts missile tests, the security of northeast China is obviously menaced. The Chinese media openly criticize Kim for jeopardizing his country’s future. A recent Global Times editorial asserted clearly, “At least for now, what North Korea is doing goes against China’s strategic interests.” In order to keep the public opinion informed of Chinese position on the issue, Beijing agreed to the toughest UN Security Council sanctions to date against the DPRK; and its Ministry of Commerce and customs administration have jointly enforced the sanctions by fully banning imports of coal, iron, lead, ores, and seafood from the DPRK. Yet geopolitically, China is concerned about chaos on the Korean Peninsula for the U.S. military presence expands and the “regime change” prescription gains ground.

No doubt, a war on the Korean Peninsula would be anathema to China, which does not want to see North Korea completely devastated. The regional and international implications of such an outcome cannot be foreseen, the scale of the conflict cannot be anticipated, and a huge flow of refugees from North Korea to China would lead to more potential problems. China is mostly wary of the ambition in Washington to achieve “regime change”, a development that could – in its view – bring about greater instability in the whole region. As the U.S. military presence is steadily increasing—its fleet in the South China Sea and around the Pacific is growing, and the THAAD system has been deployed in the ROK, China proposes instead that the Six Party Talks be relaunched and its long-term goal would be to bring the DPRK to the negotiations table by offering it motivation to cooperate. Beijing holds that at present, the most pressing thing is to stop the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs and the vicious circle of escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula. To that end, it is worthwhile to put aside the contention over who should take the first step.

Dunford’s visit to China came on the heels of intense exchanges between President Trump and the DPRK. Would China be able to persuade the United States, in particular the military groups, to listen to Beijing-initiated proposal of “suspension for suspension” that means both the DPRK and the U.S (and its ally) agree to suspend provocative military drills? This is the key reason that Chinese leaders paid high attention to Gen. Dunford’s visit to China.

While in Beijing, Dunford met President Xi Jinping who is also the chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission. During the meeting, Xi stressed that China and the U.S. share common interests in achieving the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and maintaining the status quo there. To resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, it is ultimately to stick to the tenet of opening negotiation and political settlement. China is ready to keep communication with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect, so as to jointly promote the proper settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Xi spoke highly of the new progress made in relations between the two armed forces, such as enhanced dialogue at all levels and improved military confidence-building mechanisms.

Also during his visit to China, Gen. Dunford and his team were invited to visit a military base in PLA Northern Theater Command on August 16 to interact with Chinese soldiers and officers, as well as to observe a military exercise by the Chinese soldiers. Tactically, this episode aims to show publicly Chinese military more open and transparent than expected. And a sound relationship between the two militaries should be founded on consistent dialogue, mutual respect and mutual trust. During all the meetings with Chinese command-in-chief, Chief of Joint Staff and chief of the Northern Theatre Command, Gen. Dunford was reported to say that the United States was willing to work with China, to follow the framework planned by and the consensus reached between the two heads of state, jointly to expand the areas for cooperation. He held that the militaries of the two countries should build and give play to the communication and coordination with a view to constructively resolving the current issues and moving towards mutual trust and interaction.

It is true that the DPRK nuclear issue has dominated the agenda of Sino-U.S. relations recently. And the cliché goes that President Trump has abandoned the “strategic patience” ethos of the Obama’s administration and criticizes Beijing for not putting greater pressure on Pyongyang. However, the United States, an established global superpower, and China, a rising power with global interests, are attempting to find a modus vivendi that will define the Korean nuclear issue. Although the situation remains highly complex and sensitive, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula have shown signs of abating. During his short stay in Beijing, Gen. Dunford stated once again that “to peacefully achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the common goal of both China and the U.S., and a military solution will be terrifying.“ The reasons behind his remarks are various, but one thing is clear that Washington and Beijing agree on the urgency of mitigating risks stemming from the unpredictable behavior of the DPRK government. To achieve that end, both sides need to make all efforts to keep dialogues open in light of mutual respect and mutual trust. For sure, China and the United States would not share the same perspective on many of the thorny issues involving the Korean Peninsula nuclear test issue, yet they do have the consensus in preserving the peace and stability of the world.

(*) Fan Yao-tian, MA in Finance & International Affairs Commentator

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East Asia

How China is helping Iran skirt US sanctions

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Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said eight countries, most notable China, would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil.

Shortly after the Trump administration reimposed sweeping sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an important announcement. It was a calculated move to avoid a major embarrassment. The hawks in the power corridors of Washington had anticipated the backlash of sanctions on US foreign policy with many global powers rebuffing Trump’s foolhardy move.

Pompeo said eight countries would be exempted from the draconian sanctions on buying Iranian crude oil due to special circumstances. The countries included China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Many of these countries had quite clearly indicated that they would not be cutting oil imports from Iran under the US pressure, most importantly China, Turkey, and India – three of Iran’s largest oil customers.

While India has its own strategic interests in maintaining good relations with Tehran, for instance, the Chabahar port project in Sistan-Baluchistan, Turkey’s relations with Washington have hit a new low following sanctions and trade tariffs imposed by the US.

China, which has emerged as a viable counterweight to US hegemony in the world and a protagonist of new international economic policy, has unambiguously reaffirmed its commitment to keep alive the Iran nuclear deal and stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On November 5, when the petroleum-related sanctions came into effect, Chinese foreign ministry said it will continue to “hold a fair, objective and responsible attitude” and “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights”, while reiterating its opposition to the unilateral US sanctions.

“China feels sorry for the US’ decision and we noticed that the international world as a whole opposes the practice of such unilateral sanctions,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing.

She said Iran has been seriously fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA and its efforts have been recognized by the International Atomic Energy Agency dozen times. She also affirmed that China will firmly safeguard its lawful rights while continuing to adhere to JCPOA and urged relevant parties to stand on the “right side of history”.

China has maintained that implementing the Iranian nuclear deal is akin to safeguarding the authority of UN Security Council, basic norms of international law, international non-proliferation treaty and peace and stability in the Middle East.

As one of the remaining signatories of the JCPOA, along with European Union countries who are exploring options to circumvent the US sanctions, Beijing wants to keep the deal alive. China, believe experts, is in a better position compared to other Asian countries as it is not subservient to US interests and is already embroiled in a bitter trade war with Washington.

For all parties of the JCPOA, Iranian crude oil is the main commodity of interest, particularly for Beijing. In 2017, one-third of Iran’s oil was supplied to China, which underlines the significance of oil trade between the two countries. China’s commitment to continue importing oil from Iran is very likely to deal a body blow to US ploy of reducing Iranian oil imports to zero and ‘starving’ the Iranian nation.

Hu Xijin, chief editor of the influential Chinese daily Global Times, told Tehran Times that there was no possibility of Washington reducing the Iranian oil exports to zero, “because Washington lacks righteousness to do so, therefore it can’t have the full support of the international community”.

To continue oil trade in different currencies other than dollar, Iran has been in talks with key allies, including China. On September 29, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran would circumvent sanctions by conducting trade in all currencies to avoid using the US dollar. “You can use your own currency. Sell stuff in your own currency, buy stuff in the other country’s currency, and at the end of a specific period, balance it out in a non-dollar currency. It’s quite possible and may even be profitable,”

China, which is the largest oil importer in the world with around nine million barrels imports every day, has been making concerted efforts to reshape the global oil market with increased usage of its currency in oil trading. If Chinese currency manages to replace the US dollar, it will be a masterstroke.

US has been rendered friendless and isolated in its quest to tear up the Iran deal and force countries to cut oil imports from Iran. European Union has already refused to back down on the Iran deal, exploring ways to develop payment channels to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports. The goal, according to a statement issued by EU, “is to protect the freedom of other economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran”.

Beijing has expressed its full support to the EU’s proposal to set up a “special payments system” to facilitate trade with Iran and safeguard the Iranian nuclear deal, which experts believe will significantly reduce reliance on the US dollar in the global oil trade. That will be a game-changer.

First published in our partner MNA

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East Asia

The Implication of China’s Diplomacy in APEC and ASEAN

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It is truly unusual that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and its Premier Li Keqiang are visiting the same area during nearly the same time: Xi’s visit to APEC from15th to 21st November and Li’s visit to ASEAN on 15th November. Yet, if we look into China’s foreign policy towards this area over the past years since President Xi took power, it is not difficult to understand both Xi’s and Li’s official visits to the “larger Pacific” and the meaning beyond.

As we know, President Xi has reiterated that the Pacific is large enough for the countries involved to share the prosperity with each other. In order to achieve the inclusive rather than exclusive benefits for all, China’s diplomacy aims to reject any kind of unilateralism, trade protectionism and anti-globalization. Given this, Xi’s at APEC and Li’s at AEASN is defined as a signal of China’s diplomacy to further reform and bold openness.

As a rising great country, China is surely eager to expand its investment and trade with the south Pacific area, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the first country visited by Chinese president. What is more, PNG joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) early 2018 and then became the first state of Pacific islands to sign the MoU on “The Belt and Road Initiative” construction. As the theme “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future,” the APEC summit will focus on Regional economic integration, digital economy, connectivity, sustainable and inclusive growth and so forth.

Also during Premier Li’s visit to the ASEAN, he highlighted the necessity of the collaboration and mutual benefit among the countries involved on the 21st China-ASEAN leaders meeting. This is also the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Summit (10+3) and the 13th East Asia Summit (EAS).

Quite understandable, since the 1960s, the center of world economy has shifted from North Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, its dynamic growth in the region create countless jobs and push the development of world economy. This is the reason that Asia-Pacific region has the most trade agreements and the most complicated economic architecture around world. APEC and ASEAN, as two institutions that possess most member states, are the very pillars of the tumbledown regional economic architecture. APEC was launched by Australia and later included 21 member states in the region, amongst are United States, China, Japan, the economic giant three of the world economy. ASEAN is an institution that consist of ten small and middle states. Though they are not strong enough to meet the challenges from the power politics alone, ASEAN is a core force that firmly facilitate the economic integration of the whole region of East Asia and the Pacific. No matter what the way they embrace, they are the de facto basic regionalism of Asia-Pacific. The withdrawing of United States from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and hard-achieved Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) once brought the regional economic architecture a fig leave and strengthened the impact of APEC and ASEAN.

As a result, the two visits of Chinese top leaders to the same region at the same time definitely attract worldwide attention, because they not only represent China’s recent diplomatic focus but also mark the fact that Asia-Pacific region has become one of the vital fields where China’s diplomacy will be actively conducting in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative, and carry on the good-neighbor policy. Since China has argued for creating a peaceful development milieu, to enhance economic transformation and upgrading oversea markets and partners in Asia-Pacific region.

Consider these facets, China, as the second largest economy, aims to promote its well-articulated stance on multilateralism and inclusiveness and globalization. As both President Xi and Premier Li have strongly said that China is ready to work with Pacific island countries to endeavor together and sail for a better future for bilateral relations. For the sake of that goal, China always believes that as long as all the countries involved have firm confidence in each other’s development, cooperation and the future of East Asia, and work closely together and forge ahead, all sides would achieve more and reach a higher level in the next 15 years.

For sure, China belongs to the part of a larger Asia-Pacific family, and the Chinese government defines its goal as the shared prosperity of this region. Therefore, China will continue to work hard and constructively to promote the overall development of impoverished but promising Pacific island countries under the Belt and Road Initiative.

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East Asia

An uncertain step in moving China-Japan relations

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Authors: Meshach Ampwera  & Luo Xinghuan

On October 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping met Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and praised that both China and Japan have pledged to strengthen bilateral ties amid continuous efforts made by the two nations. Xi said, “Bilateral relations have returned to the right track and gained positive momentum, which is something the two sides should cherish.” As the two largest economies in Asia, China and Japan are also the vital players in Asian security and the global development.

In addition, since this is the first official visit to China by a Japanese PM in a seven-year “Cold Peace” period, it is widely assumed that Abe’s visit symbolizes the resumption of high-level visits and will be followed by an increasing rapprochement between China and Japan. True, the leaders of the two economic giants witnessed a wide range of agreements, including a 30 billion US dollar worth of currency swap pact, the establishment of a maritime and air liaison mechanism, and enhancing people-to-people exchanges.

Yet, three factors have to be considered seriously in looking into Japanese foreign policy given the current changing geopolitical landscape regionally and globally. First, Japan has still regarded itself as a “defeated” state during the WWII. Since then, Japan’s postwar posture has frequently described as a new pacifism; yet in fact it is considerably more complex. As Henry Kissinger put it: “Japan had acquiesced in the U.S. predominance and followed the strategic landscape and the imperatives of Japan’s survival and long-term success.” This means that the governing elites in Tokyo used to hold the constitution drafted by U.S. occupying authorities with its stringent prohibition on military action, and adapted to their long-term strategic purposes. As a result, Japan was transformed from the pacific aspects of the postwar order (that prohibited military action) into a nation that has focused on other key elements of national strategy, particularly using economic leverage regionally and globally, though not uncontroversial.

Second, in a recently-released paper written by the former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he maintained that “Japan is a close ally of the U.S. and a rising military power, too, because of legal and constitutional changes of great significance championed by Prime Minister Abe.” In practice, the Japanese administration has engineered an expansion to enable its military to operate regionally and even globally in response to the rise of China, violent extremist activity in Asia, and the alleged North Korean belligerence.

Actually in 2013, Japanese Government White Paper revealed a desire to become a “normal country” with an active alliance policy. In a searching for a new role in the Asia-pacific region, Japan aims to act as an “anchor” of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) concluded in 2018 after the withdrawal of the United States. Now it involves 11 countries and representing 13.4% of global GDP ($ 13.5tri.). As the largest economy of the CPTPP, Japan has been active in moving it forward. Early this year when the British government stated it is exploring becoming a member of the CPTPP to stimulate exports after Brexit in 2019, Abe stated that the United Kingdom would be welcomed to join the partnership. It is said that even the U.S. reconsiders possibly rejoining the CPTPP if it were a “substantially new deal” for the United States.

Japan’s ardent involvement into the US-led strategy in Asia has also been endorsed to expand steadily as a normal power regionally and globally. For example, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) is the result of the joint declaration issued by the India and Japan in 2016. Although it is premised on four pillars of development and cooperation, it is self-evident that the AAGC reflects a growing special “strategic and global partnership between India and Japan” in which both sides have viewed China’s growing, pragmatic and successful presence in Africa as a menace. There is no question that AAGC is a well-crafted vision and agenda of both India and Japan, linking with their own development priorities. But with increasing pressure from Washington and Brussels, Japan and India are in effect driven by the option for the AAGC to rebalance China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

From the inception of the BRI, they have more than ever before been concerned with being isolated in Africa by Beijing’s initiative. But, as Ampwera Meshach, a researcher at Jilin University put it, “Africa is on the growth trend and offers potential markets and raw materials. For this reason, Africa largely needs pragmatic and scientific, technological and development- oriented initiatives and these are clearly reflected in China’s BRI.” In light of this, the AAGC does neither reflect a novel nor pragmatic approach on how it fits within the African agenda. Instead, AAGC’s foundational pillars seem more inclined to the Western cooperation approaches that have for decades not been translated into development.

Controversially, two days before Abe’s visit to Beijing, Japan had decided to scrap official development assistance (ODA) to China, which is a program where Japan provides aids to developing countries starting back in 1954. Even though some people argue that Japan’s ODA is reasonably cancelled because China’s GDP is even 2.5 times larger than that of Japan, yet, it is necessary for Chinese to be aware of the reality that Japan is a longstanding ally of the United States. As Japan has long been an economic power, its impressive military capabilities would not be confined to a strict policy of territorial defense—no projection of Japanese power or the U.S.-Japan alliance to the region as a whole.

It is during the Abe’s administration which has recognized an environment of growing Chinese assertiveness, violent extremist activity in Asia, and North Korean hostility, and therefore, Japan has eagerly participated in Asian security, including training and exercising with other nations, beyond a purely passive, home-island defense role. This makes it an increasingly important player serving the US strategy in Asia but challenging the rise of China globally.

It is true that Abe tweeted about the trip — while recognizing the challenges in moving bilateral relations forward, he said that he would still work to “push Sino-Japan relations to the next level”. Given the two countries’ economic links, it is only understandable that there is a need for the two sides to come closer. Moreover, Japanese businesses has been an extremely active force behind the government’s shift of attitude on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Yet, all in all, we should never ignore that Japan’s ambitious foreign policy has gone beyond the economic goal.

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