Japan Institute for National Fundamentals
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Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#447(Special)】U.S.-China Truce on Brink of Collapse

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2017.06.28 (Wed)


June 26, 2017

     China that sticks to big-power egoism rejects issuing a communique or boycotts a press conference when bilateral talks fail to make progress in its favor, as indicated by the recent ministerial U.S.-China diplomatic security dialogue in Washington. Almost at the same time, China unilaterally cancelled its border defense friendship exchange talks with Vietnam scheduled to be held in Hanoi. These developments indicate that the temporary calmness in the South China Sea has been nothing more than an illusion.

Emerging zero-sum game
     The United States and China have numerous conflict seeds in trade, the South China Sea, cyberspace and other areas. Since his first talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have temporarily covered up these conflict seeds in order to block North Korea’s nuclear development. If Xi fails to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear development, the temporary truce may collapse immediately. Conservative Republicans including former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton have criticized the Trump administration’s excessive dependence on China as not different from the former Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience.”
     As the U.S.-China strategic and economic dialogue under the Obama administration was divided into four dialogues including diplomatic security and economy, the confrontation between the two became clearer at the June 21 diplomatic security dialogue. At a press conference after the dialogue, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China to step up efforts to curtail sources of revenue for North Korea as many Chinese companies are dealing with North Korean firms. The Trump administration takes the position that the United States might unilaterally impose “secondary sanctions” on Chinese companies and financial institutions doing business with North Korea if China fails to implement any effective sanctions.
     At the talks, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis vowed not to make any concession on the South China Sea issue in exchange for Chinese cooperation on the North Korean issue, fiercely confronting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and People's Liberation Army Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui. Trump’s slogan of “making America great again” naturally conflicts what Xi terms “the great revival of Chinese nation,” indicating an emerging zero-sum game where the two countries have no room to compromise.

Waves are high in the South China Sea
     China, which sees its core interests in the South China Sea, instructed a senior Central Military Commission official to shorten his visit to Vietnam for a military exchange meeting that had been scheduled to last for three days until June 22. In the summer of 2014, Vietnam skirmished with China over the transportation of Chinese oil-drilling rigs to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Such skirmish can be expected to occur again due to their territorial dispute in the sea.
     Within the Republican Party, calls have grown for imposing secondary sanctions in connection with North Korea. David Cohen, who served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for terrorism in the Obama administration, called for secondary sanctions on medium-sized Chinese banks to begin with in his contribution to The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal in its editorial noted that the secondary sanctions would test whether President Trump is serious or not. U.S.-China confrontation without compromise in the South China Sea and the United States’ unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies have become likelier.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a columnist for the Sankei Shimbun.