A few months ago, the author wrote an article for the RIAC website on possible variants of the new international architecture on the European continent that might take shape over the next few years. Arguing that European politics will turn towards Moscow–Brussels relations, the article attempted to construct several scenarios for Europe’s future depending on the possible development trajectories of Russia and the EU through 2024. The scenario matrix for Greater Europe was built along two axes: a weak (fragmented) EU versus a strong (coherent) EU and Russia without reforms (running by inertia) versus Russia with reforms. The outcome was four generalized scenarios (“Eurasian Melting Pot,” “Two-Fold Greater Europe,” “No Man’s Land,” and “New Cold War”).
The article was viewed many times and prompted multiple comments, including questions as to whether the proposed scenario scheme was applicable to other regions, particularly Asia. The text below is a brief sketch of a scenario matrix for Asia, or rather for its greater part. West Asia – from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean – appears to be an independent sub-system of international relations developing according to its own laws and requires a separate matrix.
Choosing independent variables
Even if we exclude the Middle East, which is hugely important for the region, Asia remains a far greater, far more complex, and far more fragmented continent than Europe. There are no thousands of years of common history, no clearly dominant religion, no apparent analogue to “European values.” Multilateral institutions in Asia are not as well-developed as in Europe and security problems – from nuclear proliferation to border conflicts – are more numerous. Economic paradigms and political regimes in Asia are less homogeneous than in Europe; any choice will be subjective and overlook important bifurcation points in the development of Asian order/chaos.
Nonetheless, we might suppose that development of international relations in Asia in the coming years will be largely determined by two basic factors. First, the dynamic of correlation between the economic, academic, technological, military, strategic, and political potentials of China and the US. The general tendency here is obvious: over at least the last three decades, the balance of power has been steadily shifting toward China. There is no reason to believe that this tendency will change in the near future. Of course, the process is not linear: accelerations, decelerations, halts and even backward movements are possible, This is especially true of the military, strategic, and political components of a national power, as they are less prone to inertia and are more flexible than the economic, academic, and technological components.
Second, Asia’s future largely depends on the correlation between elements of collaboration and conflict, stability and instability, inter-dependence and protectionism, universalism and particularism, moderation and extremism, etc., in the continent’s development. Traditionally, most Asian countries have succeeded in finding an acceptable balance between the imperatives of the region’s economic development and those of the domestic political agenda. However, maintaining this balance in the near future is far from guaranteed. The general growth of nationalism, rise of religious fundamentalism in Asia, increasing military spending, resurrection of old hostile historic narratives, risks of WMD proliferation, and rise of international terrorism suggest considering a “confrontational” scenario for the international system’s evolution as at least possible, if not the most probable scenario.
Combining the horizontal axis (which records the changing balance of power between China and the US) with the vertical one (which measures the correlation between elements of collaboration and conflict in international relations in Asia), we get a matrix of four development scenarios for China-US relations and for the international system on the Asian continent as a whole. Naturally, this matrix is highly schematic and in no way exhausts all the development possibilities of international relations in Asia. Nonetheless, it can serve as a starting point for more comprehensive and more complete scenario forecasts concerning the future of the Asian continent.
Washington consensus 2.0
This scenario is based on the Trump Administration’s success in preserving – at least temporarily – the geopolitical status quo in Asia. In this scenario, the US is able to slow down or suspend entirely those changes to the balance of power between China and the US that are negative for the US. Economic development of the US accelerates while China’s economy decelerates significantly, accumulating fundamental structural problems. The economic pressure Washington consistently puts on Beijing bears fruit. The deficit in US-China trade decreases significantly. Trump succeeds in wringing concessions out of China on other fronts as well (currency exchange rates, non-tariff restrictions, intellectual property, etc.). There are no dramatic shifts in China’s favor in the military strategic balance between the two countries either: the consistent increase of China’s military spending is parried by large-scale efforts to modernize the US military, including its Navy.
At the same time, military political tensions on the Asian continent generally deescalate. Pyongyang freezes its nuclear and ballistic programs and the North Korean conflict gradually becomes less critical. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain unresolved, but they do not provoke bitter political crises in Southeast Asia. Economic interdependence between Asian states deepens and the expanding middle class in most Asian countries becomes the foundation of Asia’s political stability. The US returns to the idea of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, taking into account new bilateral economic and trade agreements already signed with partners in the Asia Pacific. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership promoted by China is stalled by numerous multilateral and bilateral disputes on specific issues. Political extremism and international terrorism in Asia are on a downward trend. The arms race between Asia’s leading countries slows down, and in its place is competition in the economy and competition between social development models.
This scenario means preserving and, in some areas, bolstering American influence in Asia. The Pacific and Indian Oceans remain free for navigation, including navigation by the US and its allies’ Navies and Air Forces. Traditional American allies remain loyal to Washington even though they actively develop economic collaboration with China. US–China cooperation continues and expands in the G1.5 format rather than the G2, with the US the senior partner setting the rules of the game. It is even possible that the US and China will reach some agreements on nuclear arms control, although the US has a decisive nuclear advantage (particularly in sea- and air-based nuclear strategic forces).
On the other hand, the US continues to put pressure on China on such issues as human rights, civil society development, and Internet freedom. This pressure resonates with certain groups within China, particularly among educated urban youth and the growing Chinese middle class. Preservation and bolstering of America’s positions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans compel Beijing to pay greater attention to resource and transit options afforded by continental Eurasia, thereby increasing the significance of Russia and Central Asia for China’s strategy.
In this scenario, the US does not succeed in slowing down further growth of China’s power in any of its manifestations: economic, research, technological, military, strategic, and political. Moreover, a new cyclical crisis in the American economy (2019–2020) speeds up the shift in the balance of power between the US and China in the latter’s favor. Washington’s positions in Asia are also undermined by the profound and ongoing domestic political crisis in the US that prevents Washington from conducting a consistent foreign policy. The US political establishment remains deeply split on the country’s optimal strategy regarding China: proponents of consistent “containment” of Beijing are opposed by adherents of “engagement.” At the same time, the US’s harsh unilateral policies toward their partners and allies in Asia accelerate the relative decline in American presence in Asia. Washington’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has long-term negative consequences due to the US’s inability to exert a decisive influence on shaping new rules in Asia Pacific. On the other hand, China achieves major successes in structural revamping of its economy without sacrificing either sociopolitical stability or its high growth rate. China’s economy opens up, especially toward neighboring Asian states. China takes the place of the US as the chief proponent of free trade in Asia and in the world in general. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership steadily progresses; the free trade zone in Asia extends beyond its original geographic boundaries and gradually turns into a continent-wide integration project.
Asia’s military and political situation develops along the lines of the first scenario: elements of international cooperation come to exert ever greater dominance over elements of confrontation. A major military political crisis in Beijing-Washington relations is avoided; territorial and border conflicts gradually become less of an issue; the logic of economic interdependence wins over that of the geopolitical balance of power. The “reset” in China-India relations gains particular significance, comparable in its consequences to the “reset” in Russia-China relations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. China, on the rise and confident in its power, agrees to significant concessions to India on border issues, recognizing India’s strategic leadership in South Asian trade and economic relations. India joins China’s “One Belt – One Road” project. The degree of India’s involvement in Asian trade increases rapidly.
Ultimately, Asia’s life is being determined by the emergent China–India axis, similar to the central role the Berlin-Paris axis played in West European integration in the second half of the 20th century. China–India cooperation is primarily economic but gradually spreads into the political. The US endeavors to balance the Beijing–New Delhi axis by boosting military political cooperation with India, but as India’s relations with China improve, New Delhi needs the US security umbrella less and less. Russia also nudges China’s leadership toward more active cooperation with India, since it is highly undesirable for Moscow to have to choose between Beijing and New Delhi. At the same time, additional risks emerge for Russia owing to Beijing possibly revising its economic and strategic priorities in favor of South Asia at the expense of Russia and Central Asia. Transforming the China-India axis into a fully-fledged China-India-Russia triangle remains Moscow’s strategic objective, primarily economically.
Since Washington loses positions in continental Asia, it has to rely mostly on its traditional allies on the periphery of the Asian continent, from Japan to Australia. With each passing year, these traditional allies find it increasingly hard to combine their pro-American military and political orientation with an economic reorientation toward China and the consolidation of Asia as a whole.
Multipolar balance of power
The scenario is based on preserving US hegemony on the continent (as in the first scenario), but under a significantly escalated military political situation in Asia. Increasing socioeconomic problems in most Asian countries, including China and India, lead to a rise in nationalism and political radicalism. Border conflicts and other territorial problems become the focus of national priorities, and populists bolster their positions in both democratic and authoritarian states on the continent. The arms race in Asia proceeds on an ever greater scale. Numerous attempts to agree on multilateral confidence-building military measures fail. From time to time, the continent is rocked by critical political crises and border clashes. Plans for economic unification of Asia fail under the onslaught of protectionism and bitter fights for resources.
Chronic political instability, separatist movements, religious conflicts, and numerous terrorist attacks prevent major infrastructural projects from being implemented on the continent. As a result, China’s “One Belt – One Road” project is realized in a reduced form with limited consequence for Asian countries. Instead of developing a single Asian economic space, most Asian states in their trade and economic strategies are oriented toward external markets (North America and Europe). Asian countries are locked in a fierce struggle over US and EU markets, allowing the West to secure profitable terms of trade with the East.
In such circumstances, the US can afford to play the role of an “offshore balancer”, maintaining a multilateral balance of power on the Asian continent and conducting a policy of “mediated” containment of China by providing incremental support to its real or potential opponents on the continent, including Japan, South Korea, ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand, and India. India is the principal, though not the only, counterbalance to China, and enters into a de-facto alliance with the US (or even becomes a de-jure American ally). Shipments of US arms to Asian countries increase. Bilateral and multilateral agreements with old US allies are renewed.
Containment of China, naturally, does not exclude Washington’s selective cooperation with Beijing, just as it does not exclude using the “Chinese menace” to further consolidate US positions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. China’s relative weakness and the numerous tensions among Asian countries allow Washington to minimize its immediate involvement in conflicts in Asia while maintaining a complex multilateral balance of power in Asia. In other words, Washington implements the strategy that the British Empire tried to implement with varying success in continental Europe in the 19th century (China’s closest analogue in this case being the Russian Empire).
The fourth scenario entails a simultaneous rise of China (as in the second scenario) and a general slump in socioeconomic, military, and political stability in Asia (as in the third scenario). Growing challenges to national security in Asian countries make it increasingly difficult to preserve the freedom of political maneuver, and the countries face a harsh choice between Beijing and Washington. As a result, Asia and the international system as a whole is divided into “Chinese” and ”American” blocs locked in a political, military and strategic, and possibly economic confrontation. Like the Soviet-American bipolar world of the 20th century, this new bipolarity gradually establishes new rules of the game acceptable to both parties, adopting the requisite agreements and generating new mechanisms for arms control. One could even imagine emergence of some new “non-aligned movement” and countries defecting from one camp to the other.
The crucial question in this scenario is the location of the “great Asian rift.” If the US succeeds in enshrining today’s tendency of India-US strategic rapprochement, the rift will divide “maritime democracies” from “continental autocracies.” If the US fails, the rift will run between the Asian continent and the island states of the Pacific. On the other hand, India may take a stance similar to that of De Gaulle’s France: while remaining within the general framework of the “maritime democracies” partnership, it will not immediately participate in anti-China military alliances (as in 1966, when Paris withdrew from NATO’s military structure).
The new bipolarity will increase Taiwan’s strategic significance for the US, and the American strategy will counteract attempts at economic integration and political unification of Taiwan and China. The Japan-China confrontation will not only be preserved, butwill gain additional impetus. With regards to Russia, the emergence of a new bipolarity will increase Russia’s dependence on China, since attempts to retain a “diversified portfolio” of political investment in Asia by expanding cooperation with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India will inevitably run into the harsh logic of bipolar confrontation.
It is hard to say how the new bipolarity will work in a globalized and interdependent world. Will the parties succeed in separating economic collaboration from political confrontation? Will they discipline their “junior partners” and non-state actors in global politics? Will they agree on joint approaches to global problems? Today, hardly anyone is ready to offer answers to these questions. One thing is clear: the new bipolarity of the 21st century would, in any case, be less stable and dangerous than the old bipolarity of the past century. It would apparently, sooner or later, evolve toward one of the three preceding scenarios.
Any forecast should contain references to “black swans.” These are critical events with hard-to-predict probability that can fully or greatly change the forecast. Several such events may be mentioned in creating a forecast for the Asian continent.
A large-scale military conflict in Asia. Although such a conflict does not appear particularly probable, the possibility cannot be entirely discounted. Setting aside the probability of violence escalating in certain Asian countries (Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc.) and of the situation destabilizing in one of the Central Asian states, we should keep in mind at least three variants of a large-scale war on the continent: (1) a war on the Korean peninsula involving the US and China; (2) naval clashes between China and the US or land clashes between China and India; (3) another border conflict between India and Pakistan escalating into a full-blown regional war. This conflict would have different impacts on China-US relations and on the situation in Asia as a whole but, in some way, would push the continent toward new strife and bipolarity and would limit the possibilities for economic unification of the continent.
The rise of Islamic radicalism. The Muslim population of Asia, even without the Middle East, will grow at rates outstripping the overall population growth of the continent. Islam is gaining particular influence in Southeast Asia, where some countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines) already have a network of international terrorist cells. A series of major terrorist attacks or attempts to seize power would have a great influence on both the political agenda in some Asian countries and on the priorities in their cooperation. For China, equally major challenges would be Islamic radicalism joining forces with separatist movements in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and growing discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia. The common threat could become an additional stimulus to multilateral cooperation in security, but ethno-nationalism and religious intolerance will impose strict limits on such cooperation.
An unexpected and severe financial and economic crisis that far exceeds the Asian crisis of 1997–1998 and the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 in both scale and depth. Shaken foundations of Asian economies would lead to major adjustments to the continental balance of power, changes to the macroeconomic strategy of leading Asian countries, and negative consequences for sociopolitical stability in some countries. Such a crisis could result in a relative weakening of the “Asian periphery” and strengthening of the “Asian nucleus”, primarily China. Another possible outcome of financial turmoil would be another “fine-tuning” of the global monetary financial system. It appears unlikely, however, that if the monetary and financial dominance of the West is preserved, Asia would gain anything substantial from such “fine-tuning.” Rather, Asian countries would have to shoulder major expenses to emerge from the crisis.
A major technological breakthrough of global significance. A technological revolution in one of the principal areas of today’s economy (energy, transport, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnologies, e-commerce, 3D-printing) is capable of changing significantly the established rules of the game in global economic relations. For instance, it could create opportunities for bringing much industrial production back into Europe and the US from Asia, cutting sharply the need for Asian labour force in individual manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors and radically changing the geography of global investment. Economic and social consequences of a major technological breakthrough would have a significant impact on the entire world, but the biggest players in new forward-looking technologies would reap the major benefits. China remains such a player, and, with qualifications, so do India and Japan. Foreign political influence would further shift from traditional instruments (military power, raw materials, and energy resources) to non-traditional (human capital, education, innovations). At the same time, Asia might become the main victim of the next generation of international cybercrime, more comprehensive and larger in scale than previously recorded.
“An economic miracle” in Russia or Japan. Russia and Japan are two large Asian countries that, for a long time, have been developing much more slowly than their dynamic neighbours on the continent. The “relative weight” of Russia and Japan in Asia’s economy is steadily falling and so are, accordingly, their long-term possibilities for influencing the future of Asia’s political space. Russia and Japan also have similarly severe demographic problems not typical of most other countries on the continent. A further drop in the “relative weight” of the two countries on the continent is considered by leading actors both in Asia and beyond. The presumption is that, should current trends remain, Japan will follow in the wake of US policies in the Asia Pacific and Russia will follow that of China’s Asian policies. Even so, if Japan’s “Abenomics” or Russia’s “economic spurt” strategy during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term succeed, the situation might change drastically. The configuration of continental balances will become far more complex and the new continental order is likely to be more stable.
First published in our partner RIAC
Decoding Pentagon Report on China January 2019
Amidst sequential escalation of US- China ‘Heated cold war’, Pentagon has released a new report on 16 January 2019, airing US concerns about China’s growing military capability highlighting a contingency about a possible attack against Taiwan. This is sequel to the coercive/threatening speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the beginning of 2019 and earlier in 19th CPC. This Pentagon report however needs to be read in context of US-China heated cold war, including information war. The interpretation of the report indicates expeditionary design of Chinese military strategy with global ambition, exploiting its increased ‘Comprehensive National Power’ (CNP) with improved technology, economics, military hardware and other elements of CNP. Chinese rapid advancement in hypersonic weaponry, cyber warfare, sea and air power have allowed it to look beyond its “Active Defence Strategy” and slow moving “Incremental Encroachment Strategy” to expeditionary ambition beyond second island chain. It highlights its design of increasing number of bases, which can be turned into military bases at short notice. The Chinese interest of keeping a buffer zone in the form of North Korea to avoid having direct land border with US ally is also indicated in the report. The continuous increase in its defence budget has helped PLA to modernize and pose serious challenge to regional neighbours like India
The US Position
As per the information in open domain, the Report does not cover US position in response to Chinese growing military capability in context of Taiwan, apparently being classified, as Taiwan is strategically important to them. In a joint Communication with PRC in 1972, US had adopted the line of No declaration of independence by Taiwan, No UN seat and no representation in an international organisation, which requires only one membership for a country, in respect of Taiwan. US, however, remains opposed to any unilateral changes in status quo by either side. US will therefore like to have a democratic, independently governed Taiwan as an ally, where they have adequate strategic and economic leverage, instead of it forming part of Communist PRC. Neither Taiwan nor China, nor US have crossed redlines of each other so far. The US security assurance in terms of Taiwan Relations Act, indirectly promising to make available “such defense equipment and services, as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” has been one of the deterrence to PRC in acting against Taiwan. Last year US Defence Budget was more than next seven countries put together including China; I do not see China posing a military challenge or competition to US in global arena, however in near vicinity of its eastern seaboard, it may pose some challenge in South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The recently signed Taiwan Travel Act, sale of military hardware to Taiwan indicates that US is in no mood to give a walkover regarding Taiwan.
Chinese Position in context of Taiwan
PRC claims Taiwan as its integral part and is looking for its peaceful reunification continues to be a dream. PRC passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, authorising war if island formally declares statehood: hence any effort towards its independence/aiding its independence will invite Chinese action to protect its sovereign territory. The threatening speeches of Xi have brought US and Taiwan much closer and much sooner than what Xi Jinping would have expected. Taiwan seems to have got bolder today and is talking of self defence indicating that Chinese coercion has not worked so far. Will China Use Force Against Taiwan
President Xi Jinping has ordered the Southern Theatre Command responsible for monitoring the South China Sea and Taiwan to get ready for war, but in my opinion China will not use force against Taiwan due to many reasons. Firstly Adventurism by China in Taiwan at the time of Trade War with US does not make any economic sense as bulks of Taiwan’s investments are already in China with Taiwan having a trade surplus of approximately US $ 30 billion with China . China gains nothing, but has a lot to lose if it attacks Taiwan. Secondly, its adventurism will amount to crossing red line of US, which treats Taiwan no less than an ally. It had earlier indicated that any unilateral change of ‘status Quo’ in Taiwan as a red line and most desired option of common Taiwanese. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such destruction of Han Chinese, who have relations and investments in mainland will not go well with domestic population of mainland, besides destroying its own economic powerhouse .The threatening speech by China for Taiwan and countries helping them is to deter Taiwan getting stronger to pursue the path of independence.
What does this Report means for India
With construction of CPEC connectivity, and China’s need to increase domestic support by generating spirit of nationalism amidst slowing down of economy, the urge to do something different cannot be ruled out. This could be an encroachment into un-demarcated borders. The clouds of ‘Two Front War’ continue to hang over India. To avoid a ‘Two Front War’ for India, the best way is to convince the potential adversaries that India is capable of fighting it. This convincing cannot be by announcements or statements by leaders, but by developing capability to do so. The defence capabilities take long time to build up, more-so if India does not have strong manufacturing base. ‘Make in India’ and self reliance is essential, but time consuming; hence must continue simultaneously with procurements. The defence budget allocation will have to substantially increase in 2019 and beyond to narrow down asymmetry in CNP with China, in the interest of national security.
China’s Soft Power Diplomacy on North Korean Nuclear Crisis
For about the last two decades, North Korea’s nuclear weapon development program has become one of the major issues of concern to international community in general and Korean Peninsula in particular. Since the early 1980s, Pyongyang had begun undertaking its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. North Korea also has conducted total five nuclear tests: October 9, 2006; May 25, 2009; February 12, 2013; January 6, 2016; and September 09, 2016. Following its historical progresses, North Korea apparently successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July 2017.
As far as the global as well as regional security is concerned, the constant development process of North Korea’s nuclear weapons attaches immense attention with huge tensions to world’s global as well as regional powers, the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. The involved actors especially the United States has urged for China’s support in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear crisis since the very beginning. Being a significant global as well as regional actor, China’s active role in resolving North Korea’s nuclear crisis through soft power diplomacy draws attention to the wider readers especially from the arena of international relations.
Given these developments, it is pertinent to examine China’s soft power diplomacy in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear crisis. China’s role in the Six-Party Talks on the North Korea nuclear crisis is one of the significant implications of China’s soft power diplomacy in Korean Peninsula. China has been playing a proactive role since 2003 in order to establish peace and stability in Korean Peninsula. The country has facilitated rounds of discussion among the members of the Six-Party Talks in order to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program with the consent of involved actors, thereby, avoiding any kind of regional instability in Korean Peninsula.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (CSO) is another multilateral forum where China has adopted its soft power diplomacy in resolving North Korean nuclear crisis. For instance, China asserted on dialogue and consultation for the peaceful resolution of North Korean nuclear crisis at the SCO annual summit held on June 11, 2018, in China’s coastal city of Qingdao, which is called Qingdao Declaration.
China’s diplomatic initiatives through its active mediation or mediation diplomacy, one of the significant aspects of China’s soft power diplomacy, in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis is notable. The U.S.-North Korea talks in March 2003; trilateral dialogues consisting of the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in April 2003; talks among Six Parties in February 2007; bilateral meeting between the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and North Korean Chairman of the Workers’ Party, Kim Jong Il in October 2009; and Beijing-Pyongyang dialogue in August 27, 2010 facilitated by China demonstrate China’s soft diplomatic initiatives to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programs; peacefully resolve the nuclear crisis; and ease tensions in Korean peninsula. In addition, Chinese government officials paid several official visits in Pyongyang in order to make progress in denuclearization process in Korean Peninsula.
Dialogue and negotiation rather than confrontation is a significant strategy of China’s soft power diplomacy in resolving North Korean nuclear crisis. Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, in this regard, stressed on the peaceful solution of North Korean nuclear standoff through dialogue. Besides, reiterating on the necessity of nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, Wang Yi, also emphasized on the consideration of North Korea’s security concerns and other concerns related to its nuclear programs to avoid any military action or the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula. As per its policy, China strongly opposed to the decision of deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti- missile defense system by the U.S. and South Korea in August 2017 and reiterated on dialogue and consultation.
However, now it is important to examine the implications of China’s soft power diplomacy on North Korean nuclear crisis. China’s soft power diplomacy regarding North Korea’s nuclear crisis has significant ramifications on the process towards the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Most significantly, the most recent bilateral meetings between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, Inter-Korean Dialogue, and the U.S.-North Korea Singapore Summit have attracted worldwide attention. For instance, during the historic Inter-Korean Summit on April 27, 2018 in South Korea, Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, declared to discontinue its nuclear tests. Therefore, the U.S-North Korea Summit, also referred to Singapore Summit, on June 12, 2018 is a noteworthy development towards the denuclearization process of Korean Peninsula. During that summit, Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his position and unwavering commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while the U.S’ President Donald Trump reiterated on providing security guarantee to the DPRK in return.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation to Kim Jong-un on June 19, 2018 and talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula reiterates China’s sincere efforts to continue denuclearization in peninsula. As per the development of their bilateral talks, Xi Jinping met Ri Yong Ho, Foreign Minister of the DPRK on December 07, 2018 in Beijing calling for the development of their stable relations and political settlement on the Korean Peninsula through the progress of Pyongyang-Washington peace talks addressing each other’s legitimate concerns. Kim Jong-un has expressed willingness to continue fruitful discussions with the US President for “complete denuclearization” and “lasting peace” in the Korean Peninsula.
China’s positive role in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and improving inter-Korean relations has also been raised by the President of Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in. He mentioned, “China has played a positive role in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and improving inter-Korean relations. Until now, China has played a positive role in helping very much the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization and the improved inter-Korean relations.”
All these progresses particularly with the China have injected new impetus towards the peaceful resolution of North Korean nuclear crisis. China has been playing very crucial role in resolving the regional as well as global tensions related to North Korea’s nuclear development programs. China’s proactive mediation diplomacy, multilateral as well as bilateral engagements, facilitation to dialogues and meetings for all parties have played crucial role in dealing with the crisis through soft power diplomacy.
Diplomatic Maneuvers for China-US trade war: December 2018 agreement
On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 1st 2018 the US President Donald Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded a conditional trade agreement, according to which Beijing has to reduce its current trade surplus with the US by increasing Chinese purchases of soybeans, natural gas, commercial aircraft and some other US industrial goods. In contrast, Washington will maintain the tariff rate on Chinese exports to US of US$200 billion at 10 percent, instead of increasing it to 25 percent, which was due to come into force on Jan 1st 2019.
Although some commentators, politicians, or scholars over-optimistically described that deal as the end of the trade war, or at least a first step, between the two countries, including President Trump himself; but in fact by analyzing the reasons behind the two countries’ decision to conclude such agreement and whether this agreement paves the way for a final trade agreement or not, and what obstacles may stand in the way of reaching a final trade agreement between the two countries, it seems more likely to be a beneficial truce or a diplomatic solution to gain more time, calming the growing escalation of the trade war and to control its affiliated losses from both sides. Accordingly, the first question that may come in mind is how the future trade relations could be between the two countries?
The coming sections attempt to answer these questions by explaining the reasons behind conducting such agreement for the two sides, the main barriers or obstacles that may prevent reaching a commercial peace between the two countries, and the prospected future of US-China trade relations based on these factors as following:
Why to conclude such agreement?
Based on the rational choice approach, the simple answer of this question is that such agreement is beneficial for both of them; and in fact it is also beneficial for all the international economy, at least to stop the continued losses of both countries.
For the United States
In order to control the losses of the American economy since the beginning of the trade war, where the indicators of the American stock markets declined sharply during October and November 2018; large losses suffered by the American farmers because of China’s imports reduction of agricultural products and soybeans in particular, where 60 percent of its total US production were importing by Beijing; and the costs of the US Department of Agriculture increased for providing almostUS$12 billion as aid to farmers and breeders affected by the trade war.
Seek to improve the trade balance with China, where the Chinese trade surplus have been increased to $293.5 billion from January to November 2018, comparing with $251.3 billion in the same period previous year; combined with increase the Chinese exports to the US by 9.8% annually since November 2018, While imports fell by 25% during the same month.
In addition, to avoid any further economic damages or losses that may occur because of the continued escalation of the trade war between the two countries whether to the American or the international economy, Moreover, to face the internal pressure of his strong opposition, and for the re-election considerations.
The agreement came shortly after the G20 industrialized nations backed an overhaul of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which regulates international trade disputes, giving a symbolic victory for Trump administration, a sharp critic of the organization.
To reduce the negative impact of the trade war, where the Chinese economy suffered from a decline in the economic growth rate during the third quarter of 2018,the defaults in the payment of corporate bond yields, and the decline in property prices; in addition to the devaluation of the Chinese currency since May 2018 by more than 8%, Which is warning to slow the economic growth to 6.3 percent next year compared to the current growth rate of 6.5 percent.
To avoid increasing US tariffs that would undermine China’s economic growth prospects, and increase pressure on its financial markets.
In addition to maintain the stability of the international economy, in order to avoid any negative effects on the Chinese economic ambitions such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) whether directly or indirectly.
– Based on the abovementioned reasons it seems clear that such agreement is a beneficial for both sides to gain more time and prepare themselves for a second round of the trade war, or at least to stop the terrible consequences of the trade war escalation.
Obstacles of a commercial peace between the two countries
There are many obstacles or barriers that prevent a long-term commercial peace between China and the US such as:
The low level of trust between the two countries because of many of the thorny issues among them such as addressing Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, the synthetic opioid fentanyl being sent from China to the United States, non-tariff barriers, cybercrimes, cyber-security, services and agriculture; and especially after the United States accuses Beijing of forcing American and foreign companies in general to disclose trade secrets versus access to the Chinese market.
The different understanding of the agreement by the two sides and the lack of clear future trade talks between them are also stumbling blocks in commercial peace way; while president Trump pledged to freeze tariffs in exchange for China’s commitment to reduce bilateral trade deficit with the US, but it is still unclear what exactly Beijing proposed; where the reports published by China’s state-owned media completely deny Beijing’s commitment to reduce the trade deficit with the US. In addition, whether China can reduce its tariffs on the American products, also the quantities and timing to resume its purchases of American goods are not clear. In addition to tariffs on Chinese goods, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports into the United States this year. Numerous countries have filed litigation at the WTO to contest the levies.
Arresting the chief financial director of Huawei Communications Technology in Canada (the daughter of Huawei’s founder, the second largest smart phone company in the world)on December 1st 2018 (the same day as the agreement was concluded); and the American requests to extradition on charges of posing a threat to US national security arguing that the technology it uses can be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Additionally, the US companies were banned from exporting to the Chinese telecommunications company ZT earlier 2018 due to Iranian sanctions had been violated. Accordingly, the Chinese Vice Foreign Ministry has summoned the US Ambassador to China on Dec. 9 in a protest over the arrest. There is no doubt that this issue will affect the scheduled talks between the two countries; While the Trump administration insists that it will not affect the ongoing trade talks, Beijing believes that it is just an American attempt to contain China’s technological ambitions. In response, Beijing may have to take some measures to calm the mounting public anger, bearing in mind that a Chinese court decision to ban the sale and import of most iPhone models on Dec 10.
The fact that the competition between the two countries is much farther than the limits of the trade warand trade is one aspect of this competition, where from the Communist Party of China’s perspective the United States seeks to bring about comprehensive changes may reach the extent of changing the Chinese political system, and obstacle the Chinese economic and political aspirations.
Indeed there are many indications that the Trump administration consider the issue as much greater than a trade war by aiming to contain or undermine China’s rise in the world and maintain the American economic and political hegemony over the world for instance the US national security strategy and Trump hint to withdraw from the Nuclear Weapons Agreement, the declaration of the free and open Indo-Pacific economic zone, and the American opposition to BRI as well as the Made in China 2025’splan. In addition, the adoption of the America First policy gives the impression that the United States is seeking concessions, not to improve trade relations, but to maintain American hegemony. Furthermore, the historical experience proves that the American perspective in dealing with the international issues mostly characterized by realism features, where as soon as it considered any state as their rival the caution will prevail on their relations and keeps working and set strategies to win the zero-sum game with this state.
The narrow timeframe of the agreement, which lasts for no more than 90 days for further talks with the aim of structural changes on some thorny and complex issues, therefore, it is difficult to resolve this long list of issues in that short timeframe.
Furthermore, the two countries are also at odds over some other issues such as the China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea and U.S. warship movements through the highly sensitive Taiwan Strait.
Future of US-China Trade Relations
Whether the two countries could reach a commercial peace or not is depending heavily on their ability to overcome the above challenges and the real willingness of both sides to take concrete steps to end their trade war.
From one side, there are some steps or measures from the both sides to contain and avoid the escalation of trade war such as President Xi’s agree to designate fentanyl a controlled substance during the meeting, the Chinese announcement to slash on US-made autos from 40 percent to 15 percent in an attempt to show its willingness to calm the tension with Washington.
In the same context, whether the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) scheduled for March 2019 may lead to substantial changes to China’s economic policy will be a decisive factor in determining the future of the US-China trade war. On the other hand, the announcement of President Trump on December 11 that he may intervene in the Justice Department’s case against the chief financial director of Huawei if it would be in the interest of U.S. national security and help forge a trade deal with China, gives an impression that both sides have a desire not to escalate the trade war or at least express their fearing about the consequences of this escalation.
From another perspective, it’s arguable that the US-China trade agreement is very similar to the agreement between Washington and the European Union in July 2018, which included strengthen the free trade measures and the announcement of more European purchases of the American agricultural products. But the agreement is in danger of collapse, with President Trump threatening once again to impose a 20 percent tariff on all cars and spare parts imported from the EU. The same scenario is possible with China as long as it serve the American interests, especially with the lack of a final agreement on what Washington considers as unfair trade practices by China in the areas of cyber espionage, piracy and intellectual property rights violations. With bearing in mind that the White House said talks would take place to resolve within the next 90 days specific US complaints such as forced technology transfer, or else existing 10 percent tariffs would go up to 25 per cent.
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