US lacks clear consensus on China policy

By Lin Hongyu Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/14 18:38:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

In the past few days, two striking news in China-US relations have been catching people's attention. One is US side's abrupt decision to suspend China-US trade negotiations and continue to impose tariffs on Chinese goods; the other is the US House of Representatives passed two Taiwan-related bills, noting Washington should "conduct 'regular sales and defense articles' to Taiwan and backing Taiwan's participation in international organizations," according to Reuters. As the timing of the two events is very close, it gives the impression that the US government and US Congress will unite and jointly exert pressure on China.

Has current US government changed its attitude toward China significantly? Has the US reached a clear consensus on its China policy? Or is the Taiwan card played by the House in line with Washington's trade diplomacy? What is the role of this Taiwan card in the House? How do we respond?

First, I don't think the tone of current administration's China policy has changed. To make a deal, to make a big deal remains the basic logic and keynote of US President Donald Trump's China policy. Trump will not hesitate to make a deal if it can boost domestic employment and his approval ratings. In terms of timing, Trump's policy also embodies the electoral politics, because the third year in office is often important for the incumbent president in his re-election campaign in the coming year. So, Trump also needs to make political achievements and fight for votes.

Second, the US has yet formed a clear consensus on its China policy. The House's act is an isolated incident. It is not meant to support administration's diplomacy but objectively speaking, it is possibly an act of domestic politics by the US elite establishment to thwart Trump. 

The Taiwan-related bill passed by the House is an example. The Taiwan card is the most powerful but also the most dangerous card that the US anti-China forces can play. The anti-China establishment is also exerting vigorous influence on the Trump administration's policy toward China. However, from an objective perspective, by playing the Taiwan card, Congress is in fact stirring up troubles for Trump. The US establishment elites understand that the Taiwan question is related to China's core interests, and China has no room for concessions or negotiations on it. Playing the Taiwan card is a strategic attempt to block Trump's economic and trade achievements, and to prevent his re-election next year. 

For this reason, I believe that the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019 and the House Resolution 273 reaffirming the US commitment to Taiwan and the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) are merely the wishful thinking of the US establishment elites. It won't strengthen Taiwan's security. Instead, they may embolden Taiwan secessionist forces to take risks, resulting in a full-scale conflict and a catastrophic head-on collision between China and the US.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-US diplomatic relations. In general, China-US relations are an asymmetrical relationship. The US seems to have been domineering and proactive with quite a few options at its disposal and loud voices. China, on the other hand, has been relatively passive. It does not have many good cards to play or a strong discourse. But at the same time, it is noticeable that the development and changes in China itself are, in many cases, the key variables affecting China-US relations. 

For example, in 1969, China sent a positive signal to improve relations. In 1972, then president Richard Nixon's China tour broke the ice in China-US relations. When China decided to open its door of reform and opening-up, it marked the formal establishment of China-US diplomatic relations in 1979. After the international financial crisis in 2008, China's proactive response has resulted in active China-US cooperation within the framework of the G20. Thus, China can play an active role in shaping China-US relations. 

We must make it clear to the anti-China US establishment that their tricks will not succeed. The traditional "3T" cards, namely the Taiwan card, the Tibetan (human rights) card and the trade card, are no longer working well. In the context of globalization, China and the US are inextricably linked. 

The fundamental strategic cooperation (global security and peace, regional hotspot issues, energy, climate change, etc.) between China and the US, the two most powerful nations in history, cannot be ignored. Therefore, the failure of China-US relations is an unbearable disaster for both countries and the world.

The author is dean of the College of International Relations, Huaqiao University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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