US seeks China’s goodwill

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/22 0:28:39

Mention of ‘mutual respect’ gets mixed interpretation


Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua


 
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's mention of "mutual respect" in dealing with China, which was criticized by the US media as a diplomatic concession, does not necessarily mean the US has changed its overall strategy on China, analysts said.

However, it does show the US needs to seek China's cooperation in the chaos the world is facing, including the restive Korean Peninsula, they noted.

During his first visit to China as secretary of state that ended on Sunday, Tillerson said the US would like to develop the bilateral relationship with China based on "the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation," phrases that resonated with China's idea of a "new model of major power relations." He has since been criticized by the US media for making a "diplomatic concession."

The phrases were originally coined by China to guide Sino-US relations away from the Thucydides trap, a theory which says that a rising power and an established super power are bound to engage in conflict.

The Obama administration refused to endorse the idea proposed by China. Although both sides have in general agreed with the "no conflict, no confrontation" principle, the former US administration and many US foreign relations scholars believed that "mutual respect" would put the US on an equal footing with China in front of the former's regional allies, and endorsing the principle would mean that the US agrees to respect China's core interests, such as Taiwan and Tibet.

Analysts believe Tillerson's approach reflects the new mindset of the Trump administration.

"In general, Tillerson's echoing of the 'new model of major power relations' is a sign of goodwill from the US and is conducive to the upcoming summit between President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. But how much this goodwill will translate into actual policy remains to be seen," said Sun Chenghao, assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Tillerson said in Beijing that the US is willing to pursue a "results-oriented relationship" with China, a term never used by previous US governments.

"We don't yet know what 'results-oriented relationship' entails and we are waiting for the US to expound on it. The phrase is more frequently used in business, which may suggest a pragmatic or businesslike approach," Sun told the Global Times.

"It is too early to say that China has scored a diplomatic victory. I am more inclined to believe Tillerson used these words with a utilitarian purpose, which is to give vocal and superficial concessions to please China and lure China into making concrete concessions, such as with North Korea," Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

The Trump administration is weighing broad sanctions against North Korea and is pressuring China to act more harshly on North Korea.

Liu said the connotations of the "new model of major power relations" leaves room to decide how to act on the principle.

"The Trump administration may not look at the issue as rigorously as some scholars," Liu said, "and keep in mind that many of them are realists not easily bound by rules or language."

Fu Mengzi, deputy dean at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that the criticism geared toward Tillerson's use of "mutual trust" showed that some US international relations experts wish Washington will continue to dominate the discourse between the two countries.

'Existential threat'

Tillerson's visit came ahead of a proposed meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in April.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a broad range of issues including North Korea and bilateral trade.

Some analysts approached by the Global Times said that Tillerson's preference for "mutual trust" may be undermined by the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis, which some in the US are beginning to see as an "existential threat."

"North Korea has become the No.1 US security concern, overriding other issues including the Middle East turbulence as the US begins to realize that North Korea, if left unstopped, will one day develop missiles which can reach the US mainland," Sun said.

However, how much China is willing to cooperate with the US on North Korea depends on the US approach.

"The space for cooperation will be scant if the US is determined to take military steps to eliminate the threat," Sun said.




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