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China-US Ties Sinking                  10/23 06:37

   BEIJING (AP) -- "Both ignorant and malicious" was how the official China 
Daily newspaper recently described comments by U.S. Secretary of State Mike 
Pompeo, offering a stinging insight into the current bitter tone of discourse 
between the countries.

   The White House's move to expand Washington's dispute with Beijing beyond 
trade and technology and into accusations of political meddling has sunk 
relations between the world's two largest economies to the lowest level since 
the Cold War.

   A major speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 4 was the clearest, 
highest-level sign that U.S. strategy was turning from engagement to 
confrontation. Pence accused China of interfering in the midterm elections to 
undermine President Donald Trump's tough trade policies against Beijing, warned 
other countries to be wary of Beijing's "debt diplomacy" and denounced China's 
actions in the South China Sea.

   "What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing 
across this country," Pence told an audience at the Hudson Institute think tank 
in Washington.

   Both sides are trading increasingly sharp accusations over human rights and 
global hegemony, exposing an ideological divide that pits the two on a path of 
confrontation with no clear resolution in sight.

   While a military clash has not been ruled out, American-based analysts 
envision a continuing push-and-pull for dominance between Trump and his Chinese 
counterpart, Xi Jinping, China's most dominant --- and repressive --- leader 
since Mao Zedong. Xi's aggressive foreign policy and authoritarian ways have 
altered views of China across the board.

   "What has happened is a sea change in U.S. perceptions of China," said June 
Teufel Dreyer, an expert on Chinese politics who teaches political science at 
the University of Miami. While Chinese officials privately say they're 
concerned about the sharp deterioration in ties, especially given the massive 
links between the two in trade, immigration and education, it appears Beijing 
is more than willing to go toe-to-toe under the new circumstances.

   Increasingly, the perception that as China grew more prosperous it would 
fall in line with global values and international law has been exploded. Into 
that breach has come hardening U.S. rhetoric toward Beijing and actions to 
counter, deter or defy China's moves in the international sector, particularly 
its "Belt and Road" trade and infrastructure initiative that seeks to expand 
Beijing's economic and political footprint from Cambodia to Cairo.

   Trump's first national security strategy, released last year, also labeled 
China a "revisionist power" alongside Russia.

   Beijing's outrage at Pompeo, meanwhile, was prompted by his recent warnings 
to Latin American countries about the dangers of accepting Chinese 
infrastructure loans that are a key aspect of Xi's signature foreign policy 
project.

   "U.S.-China relations have deteriorated to their worst point" since the 1989 
Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in Beijing that were crushed by the 
Chinese military, said Michael Kovrig, senior adviser for Northeast Asia at the 
International Crisis Group.

   "It may not be a clash of civilizations, but it is a long-festering conflict 
of national, political and economic interest and systems that has reached a 
point of rupture," Kovrig said.

   Xi has abandoned the strategy laid out by reformist leader Deng Xiaoping 
that China should bide its time and refrain from advertising its ambitions to 
become a world power. Instead, he has been accused of overreach by promoting 
China's drive to become a global technology leader by 2025, including by 
compelling foreign companies to hand over their know-how, and pushing 
Chinese-financed energy and transportation projects that leave target countries 
with unsustainable debt.

   On the military front, a Chinese destroyer last month maneuvered perilously 
close to the USS Decatur in the South China Sea. The Chinese also denied a 
request for a U.S. Navy ship to visit Hong Kong and rejects U.S. concerns over 
its policies toward other countries.

   "The U.S. simply aims to drive a wedge between China and relevant countries 
with those remarks," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday. "It 
is meaningless and futile."

   The tart rhetoric is evident on both sides. 

   Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a speech 
last week that China's government "is engaged in the persecution of religious 
and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell," referencing the 
internment of Muslims in the country's northwest in political reeducation camps.

   This month, the United States went further by threatening to pull out of the 
Universal Postal Union because it says the treaty allows China to ship packages 
to the U.S. at discounted rates at the expense of American businesses.

   Underlying the estrangement is the sense that Beijing lacks reciprocity, 
taking advantage of open markets and free societies to extend its interests, 
while denying the same benefits to companies, governments and individuals over 
which it has influence.

   "My bottom line view is that Xi Jinping very much overplayed his hand taking 
advantage of the restrained and moderate (former President Barack) Obama," said 
Robert Sutter, a China expert at George Washington University. "Now he has an 
enormous American series of challenges to deal with, with no easy solutions."

   While Chinese companies --- often backed by easy credit from state banks --- 
have been snapping up foreign assets, Beijing restricts such foreign purchases 
in key sectors such as energy, transport and telecommunications. Although China 
has loosened some joint-venture demands, including in the auto industry, that 
may be too little too late.

   China is "not very willing to constrain itself under rules that it feels 
were forced upon it," said Dean Cheng, senior research fellow at the Heritage 
Foundation in Washington. "This includes the international trading system, 
which is dominated by the U.S."

   Still, attempts to contain China along the lines laid out during the Cold 
War would be "difficult, if not impossible," given the broad range of contacts 
across political, economic and personal spheres, Cheng said.

   The U.S. has also reinforced ties with Taiwan --- claimed by China as its 
own territory --- building an impressive new de facto embassy there, approving 
a major sale of military parts and services, and authorizing companies to help 
the self-governing island democracy build submarines to defend itself from 
China's threats to use force to bring it under Beijing's control.

   The tensions are underscored by political uncertainties in both countries. 
Trump faces a referendum of sorts on his policies in next month's midterm 
elections, while Xi has come under rare criticism at home since he forced 
through a constitutional amendment in March to allow him to lead indefinitely.

   Xi is also beset by a slowing economy, made worse by U.S. tariffs that 
threaten the jobs of millions of Chinese workers. While China has retaliated 
with its own tariffs on U.S. goods, the loss of American markets will likely be 
a major drag on growth.

   All such factors appear to speak poorly for any immediate resolution to the 
frictions.

   Michael Mazza, a foreign policy expert at the conservative American 
Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, said "competition will remain 
the norm" between the two countries unless China is willing to make significant 
changes in its domestic, economic and foreign policies.

   "At this point, there is little reason to suspect that such a shift is in 
the offing," Mazza said. 


(KA)

 
 
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