Authors: Wang Li & Yang Yi-zhong*
According to a conventional argument, with no heir apparent and his power firmly consolidated, Chinese President Xi Jinping is at the height of his authority when U.S. President Trump made his first state visit last week. On October 18, Xi’s inaugurating message was clear: China is already a superpower and should begin to act like one.
This should be a wake-up call for the United States. North Korea is certainly an urgent security issue that needs to be resolved. But Trump has to widen his focus to counter China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy and address challenges to U.S. leadership in the region. Given this, the world media once again focused on Trump’s visit to China and the meetings followed between Trump and Xi Jinping.
But in Chinese eyes, this is Trump’s first visit to China since he assumed the presidency in February, and also a “unforgettable” trip to China, as he said, because Xi and his wife welcomed Trump’s couple with a special arrangement of “state visit plus”. In foreign affairs, protocol is commonly described as a set of international courtesy rules including high-standard reception. In view of this common practice, President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed their state guests with an informal afternoon tea and then formal dinner at the Palace Museum, also called “the Forbidden City”. Why?
First is to show Chinese traditional culture. When President Xi Jinping visited Mar-a-Lago last April, President Trump offered a hospitable and considerate reception to Xi and his wife with high-standard and thoughtful arrangements being made in all respects. Since China is known as a nation that courtesy calls for reciprocity, Beijing attached great importance to President Trump’s visit to China. As the Forbidden City embodies both the ancient splendor of the Chinese culture and mirrors the vicissitudes of modern China, it serves as an indispensable window to learn about the Chinese aspiration for the greatness in the world. It was during the tour in the Forbidden City where President Xi lost no time to reveal the core parts of Chinese thinking on the world order in the new century, that is, the harmony should be the supreme mean (way) of the human society. China will be dedicated to create a new-type of great power relationship in light of shared destiny of global community.
Second is to present the mutual respect. Also in the Forbidden City, President Trump showed President Xi a video of his grand-daughter Arabella Kushner singing in Mandarin and reciting the ancient Chinese poetry. That video has been shared and reposted enthusiastically by Chinese netizens many times. In terms of the concept of “public diplomacy”, Arabella acted as the little ambassador of China-US friendship since she is adored by the Chinese people across the country. This special episode is very heart-warming indeed, as it was reported that Xi’s couple were deeply impressed by Arabella’s excellence in Chinese. It can be said that certain social groups of America including the “First Family” of the United States have revealed their respects to Chinese culture and classical values. Given this, it is important to bring closer the distance between the Chinese and American people through their common interests and the shared responsibilities as the two largest economic giants.
Obviously, from the very beginning, Xi Jinping and Trump have worked to forge a mutual respect and trust in their personal ties. Because of this, both of them liked to have small-group and informal interactions, which gave them enough time and room to have an in-depth and strategic exchange of views on major issues of common interest. And the exchange of views can help the two powers to enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust in the future. Yet, behind this point, we can discern that Trump has received an honour in Beijing not granted to any U.S. President since the ice-breaking trip to China by former President Nixon in 1972. As the Forbidden City was the historic palace that housed Chinese emperors and their families for over 600 years, dining in the Forbidden City is indeed a significant honour for Trump and his family, in keeping with what China’s Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai had promised would be a “state visit-plus.”
However, the relations between China and the United States are essentially related to “high politics” that involves security issues, trade disputes and the balance of power. In his meetings with Xi, Trump talked firmly about the DPRK-related resolutions of the UN Security Council. President Xi made it clear that China earnestly fulfills its due international obligations in light of the resolutions of UN Security Council. Meanwhile, considering China’s rise leads to its more assertive foreign policy, there are a few clues to reveal that the United States will increase its military presence in Asia, either consolidating their well-established alliance with Japan, Korea (ROK) and Australia or expanding new trans-regional strategic partnership with India.
Yet, symbolically, the using the Forbidden City in this manner is a dramatic shift in either way. What was once known as the ‘palace of blood and tears’ is now being used for a state visit. This could be seen as China now facing a historic juncture: under Mao’s revolutionary leadership, the Chinese people stood up. Under Deng’s reform, the Chinese people became rich. And now, under Xi, the nation is becoming strong. He reiterated that “no country alone can handle all the challenges that mankind faces and no country can retreat into self-isolation”—a veiled critique of Trump’s America First foreign policy.
It is against this backdrop that Xi’s new era presents significant opportunities and challenges for Washington. American expert on China’s affairs Paul Haenle argued recently, it is therefore vital that Trump maintains a U.S. position of strength. Given that the United States is still wealthier and more powerful and resilient than any of its competitors, it is necessary to remain the more attractive model in the face of a Chinese alternative. Yet, the United States needs to strengthen its domestic foundations and continue to invest in the alliances, partnerships, and systems of rules and norms that have allowed it and countries across Asia to thrive under The Pax Americana.
In conclusion, Xi stressed that President Donald Trump’s visit to China was of great significance, which was not only a matter of great concern to both China and the US, but also attracting the attention of all countries in the world. It is also true that with concerted efforts of the two sides, the visit will yield positive and important results. To that end, Xi even briefed Trump at inquiry on China’s current economic and social development, including China’s strategic goals in the next 30 years. Trump did thank his Chinese counterpart for the considerate arrangement on his visit to China with praising China’s achievements in economic, social and diplomatic fields.
However, as a superpower for so long time and lonely as well, it takes some time for the United States and its people to welcome new equal partners in global governance. In so doing, China does indeed need both power and patience.
* Yang Yizhong is a student majored in Public Diplomacy, SIPA, Jilin University
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.
Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.
The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.
A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
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