US Provocations Trigger Tension in Sino-American Relations
If there is one template on which the CarnegieEndowment for International Peace, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post can
agree with China's Xinhua news agency and the CGTN in the present-day world of
information wars, it must be in their shared opinion that Mike Pompeo is the
worst secretary of state in America's diplomatic history. (here, here, here, here, and here)
Two Chinese flagships came out yesterday with a
similar opinion on Pompeo-China Daily, the government paper and People's Daily,
the Party organ-lamenting his dishonesty, unscrupulousness, and
untrustworthiness as a politician and human being.
The China Daily/People's
Daily articles have appeared just 10
days after Pompeo took the initiative to invite Yang Jiechi, Politburo member,
and China's top diplomat, on a delicate 'Kissingerian' mission to draw red
lines on the sand in the Sino-American relationship.
Pompeo hoped to pin down Beijing to fulfilling
its commitments under the trade deal of last January that includes China's
massive purchase of agricultural products from the US. It is a critically
important issue for Trump personally in the upcoming election in November. The
farm lobby is his 'core constituency'.
Where exactly Pompeo goofed up in his mission is
hard to tell, but the American diplomats apparently went into the negotiations
with Yang under the impression that they could extract concessions by
taunting/threatening Beijing over Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang.
In fact, Trump signed the new
legislation calling for
sanctions over the repression of China's Uighurs just as Pompeo received Yang.
(On June 25, the US Senate approved a bill over the Hong Kong security law
that would allow the US to impose sanctions against Hong Kong police, Chinese
officials, and banks.)
Pompeo was apparently bullish that China is a
much weakened and diminished power today due to the impact of the Covid-19
pandemic on its economy, politics, and international standing and that the
negative fallouts would have damaged the prestige of the Chinese communist
party and its leadership.
But, on the contrary, Beijing's reaction to the
talks in Hawaii has been very sharp. Yang firmly rejected Pompeo's demarche on
Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, as the Foreign Ministry spokesman's readout suggests.
Unsurprisingly, the State Department readout was taciturn and evasive. In a
briefing, however, a senior
state department official virtually admitted that Pompeo's mission was a
Also read: Standoff in Ladakh Needs Political
In fact, Pompeo himself switched back quickly to
his wolf warrior diplomacy almost immediately after leaving Hawaii by launching
a withering attack on China in a speech at Copenhagen on June 19, four subsequent
statements exclusively on China (here, here, here and here) and yet another full-bodied speech in Brussels on June 25.
Pompeo is increasingly behaving like a man
possessed. He may have a game plan to divert attention from the failure of his
mission to Hawaii but such erratic, excessive behaviour by a US secretary of
state is extraordinary even by the Cold-War era yardstick.
At any rate, on June 26, Wall Street Journal may
have offered a plausible explanation for all this adrenaline flow. The
in a report that Beijing has
started to "quietly" warn Washington that China's purchases under the "Phase
One" trade deal of January, which include American agricultural products, could
altogether cease if the US crosses "red lines" – that is, if the Trump
administration meddles in issues that the Chinese government deems as "off limits".
The daily added citing anonymous officials that
Yang relayed this warning to Pompeo at the Hawaii meeting. "The US side should
refrain from going too far with meddling. Red lines shouldn't be crossed," an
anonymous Chinese official told the WSJ.
On June 26, Chinese Communist Party's tabloid
Global Times also featured a commentary to the effect that Trump's team should "show more goodwill or positive signals to offset the impact" of their
irresponsible statements regarding China "so as to prevent further losses in
the market arising from such uncertainty".
The GT said the trade deal is not the only issue
in the bilateral relations "that requires efforts to eliminate doubts and
concerns. The US government needs to reflect on all the battlegrounds it has
opened against China in recent months" such as the crackdown on Chinese
high-tech companies like Huawei, the US threat of revoking Hong Kong's special
trade status, and its spat over flight resumptions.
The commentary concluded that "only by
reflecting on and making efforts to remedy the damage that has been caused to
US-China relations on multiple fronts can bilateral economic and trade ties
return to a normal track".
Equally, China has sharpened its stance on the
recent US overflights in Taiwan, Washington's reported move on weapons
sales to Taipei, Pompeo's campaign to
allow Taiwan to be represented in the WHO as a separate state and so on.
The Global Times disclosed that the Chinese People;s Liberation Army
[PLA] sent military aircraft to Taiwan's southwestern airspace eight times in
June alone. It explained that apart from reconnaissance missions and aimed at
intercepting US military aircraft flying through the area, the PLA is also "training to suppress the potential US and Japanese reinforcements coming from
Guam and Ryukyu Islands through the Miyako Strait east of Taiwan and through
the Bashi, Balintang, and Babuyan channels southwest of Taiwan."
The report flagged that "the PLA could use these
operations to effectively lockdown the area from foreign forces while ensuring
that Taiwan's forces cannot escape".
Clearly, to borrow a cliche among China hands,
Beijing is being more "assertive" than before. What explains it? Is it
motiveless malignity, or, as many Indian and American analysts tend to believe,
an attempt to cover up China;s weakness?
In reality, China is reacting to a series of
calibrated actions by the US through the past several months to irritate it,
taunt it, humiliate it and threaten it. The deployment of three 100,000-ton US Navy aircraft
carriers to the Pacific Ocean for the first time in three years is the latest
such move. China is not blinking, but the damage is done nonetheless.
The US provocative moves triggered
tensions in the
relationship. And now they are backfiring. From such a perspective, China's "assertiveness" turns out to be deterrence - rather than intended aggression - in a security climate where mutual trust has broken down for whatever