The New Eastern Outlook has, on numerous occasions, reported that the trade and economic sphere is at the heart of the global confrontation, taking place on many fronts, between the two world powers (the USA and PRC). At present, the state of this sector is such that it has already been described as a “trade war”.
Negative consequences of this Sino-American trade war are no longer limited to the nations’ bilateral ties and have started to affect the entire global economy. This has led to high-profile appeals directed to Washington and Beijing urging them to try and find a compromise solution to the ongoing problems.
Similar pleas were also heard at the meeting between the leaders of the two nations, which took place on the sidelines of the most recent G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The key players of this practically ongoing trade war decided to delay any actions by 90 days. During this period negotiations between special delegations are to take place. In an interview with the Bloomberg agency TV channel, Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, made an assumption that these negotiations will resume at the beginning of January 2019. It is worth reminding the readers that several rounds of similar negotiations took place in the spring and summer of 2018, but failed to yield any results.
However, there have been no similar “pauses in conflict” in other spheres of the ongoing Sino-American confrontation. And, in these areas, the legislative branch of the US federal government has been particularly active. In fewer than three months of the departing year, the Congress approved three Acts, which either directly or indirectly target Beijing.
The first of these is called the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2018, and it passed the US Senate on 14 November. This Act came in response to the work undertaken by the previously established Congressional-Executive Commission. An intermediate outcome of the aforementioned work was an appeal to deprive China of the right to host the Winter Olympics in 2026.
All of these developments are reminiscent of those that happened to the Russian Federation recently. We are now awaiting WADA to make its appearance on the political arena and accuse Chinese sportsmen of doping.
A respected newspaper, the Times of India, posed an interesting question about the previously mentioned Act “Why Pakistan is silent about plight of fellow Muslims in China?”
The answer is obvious and, according to the same newspaper, amounts to political and economic expediency, whose presence, we might add, has spanned the entire history of human civilization. For example, during the 30-year war Cardinal Richelieu fought against fellow Catholic believers, as a result helping the “heretic” Protestants.
The same political expediency explains the appearance of the previously mentioned document from the US Congress. It is unlikely that the US authorities will enact similar Acts in response to some actions by New Delhi in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, by Madrid in Catalonia and the French government in Paris.
The second document mentioned earlier is the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018. Its section 2.1 states the Sino-American relations lack reciprocity in that access to certain regions of both countries is not granted to diplomats and other officials, journalists, and certain citizens.
The next section 2.2. elaborates that the region in question is Tibet. Access to this area, in the opinion of legislators, is limited despite statements, made by China’s Premier Li Keqiang in August 2015, about the government’s aim to transform Tibet into one of the centers of world tourism.
In order to provide examples of such limitations, the document includes facts, such as the approval of only 4 out of 39 requests made by US diplomats to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) from 2011 to 2015; problems encountered by representatives of the US Consulate General when accessing a site in TAR, where a bus with American tourists had an accident in October 2013, and many others.
Section 3.0, entitled Definitions, is especially noteworthy. As Tibet, according to law drafters, does not only refer to TAR, but also to some adjoining Chinese provinces that happen to include areas with names which derive from the word Tibet. It is noteworthy that the question of defining “historic boundaries” of Tibet is not only interesting from an academic perspective but also from a practical political one. This issue is relevant to the Tibetan Government In-Exile, based in India, which lays claim to half the territory of modern China.
The third document worth mentioning, passed by the Senate on 19 December, is the bill entitled the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018”, which “confirms” the fact that US interests in the Indo-Pacific have shifted. This stems from the fact that more than 50% of the world’s population live in this region, which is home to the most dynamically growing economies. It is also where main threats to US national security, regional stability and global peace originate.
Although a separate paragraph is dedicated to relations with PRC, directly or indirectly increasing problems plaguing the Sino-American relations permeate the whole hefty Act. Is the document about current and anticipated military and political alliances with US involvement; some multilateral arrangements in the economic cooperation sphere or the promotion of American values in the region?
Three points from this bill are worth highlighting due to the mere fact that two of them are included in the document while the third is markedly absent from it. India is mentioned in the context of a bilateral strategic partnership with the USA and of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.
The New Eastern Outlook has reported regularly on the current status of a long-standing initiative to establish a military and political Quad (comprising the USA, Japan, India and Australia), which is viewed by Washington as a (potential) key measure for containing China in the region. However, the problem lies in the fact that all of Washington’s three partners are clearly in no hurry to move from the stage of dialogue to an actual binding alliance.
We have also repeatedly focused on the increasing role of Taiwan in the framework of Sino-American relations. This idea finds support in the section of the bill entitled Commitment to Taiwan. It lists all the US commitments in relation to Taiwan from previously approved documents.
The section includes a key provision from the first of such documents (the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979), which states that it is the policy of the United States “to counter efforts to change the status quo and to support peaceful resolution acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait.” It is worth highlighting that if someone (aside from Washington) may feel a sadistic urge to take a painful jab at Beijing, a sure means of accomplishing this is to name Taiwan “a party to the Taiwan Strait conflict.”
Among numerous points about absolutely everything that concerns regional trade and economic cooperation included in the document, the absence of any mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) stands out. It is as if the initiative has disappeared from the region.
In the meantime, the TPP (dubbed with a new name) will come into effect from 1 January 2019. This is, unquestionably, one of the most important events in the process of shaping the political map of the Indo Pacific. As a consequence, Japan’s role will abruptly increase in prominence, as this nation resurrected the partnership when it was on the verge of collapse after the United States had abandoned it. A number of countries, including Great Britain, have already expressed interest in this initiative.
Seemingly, the United States does not yet have an opinion on how it will cooperate with the TPP. Earlier information indicated that Washington was not against the possibility of a part-time membership within the partnership, for instance, in the format of an “association” of sorts.
Finally, it seems appropriate to comment on, in particular, the human rights aspect of the US policy towards China, which the United States Congress has yet again focused on. We would like to remind our readers that during the opening of the scheduled UN General Assembly session at the end of September, Donald Trump talked about the fact that the US was no longer willing to “teach” other countries “how to live”.
However, it is exactly what the political elite in the United States (dubbed the “Washington swamp” by Donald Trump), in control of Congress, continues to do.
When the rest of the world encounters this splintering image of the world power, it makes it so much harder for the United States to collaborate with other key players of the modern political chess game. And forecasting how this game will play out also becomes increasingly difficult. It is impossible to say anything definitive as yet about the future relationship between the two world powers, once the pause they had decided to take from the trade war is over.
Congressional legislative activities, described in this article, are most definitely not conducive to creating an environment which will favor positive developments in Sino-American relations.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”