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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#432】U.S.-China “Mutual Respect” Is A Matter of Concern

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2017.04.11 (Tue)

April 10, 2017

     At his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 6 and 7, U.S. President Donald Trump voiced his strong discontent with China’s dealing with North Korea and heavy trade surplus with the United States, the biggest bilateral pending issues, demonstrating his tough attitude on China. That’s good news. However, a matter of concern is that both U.S. and Chinese sides explained Trump and Xi agreed to manage differences based on “mutual respect.”
     China has used the term “mutual respect” to ask the United States to respect China’s “core interests” by refraining from intervening in Taiwan, Tibet, South China Sea and other issues on which China would not like to make any concession. The latest agreement might have paved the way for China to place the same demand on the Trump administration.

Attack on Syria worked to give a warning to China
     According to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was present at the Trump-Xi talks, Trump rejected any dialogue with Pyongyang as long as North Korea continues nuclear and missile development and threatened to “chart our own course” unless China coordinate with the United States, urging the Chinese leader to enhance sanctions on North Korea.
     During a dinner on the first day of the two-day meeting, Trump launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air force base for the reason of the Assad regime’s latest alleged chemical weapon use in the Syrian civil war. The action should have frightened the Chinese leader, threatening to launch a military attack on North Korea if Beijing leaves Pyongyang to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.
     On the situation of East and South China Seas where China has taken remarkablly assertive actions, Trump told Xi to adhere to his own promise of non- militarization and to international norms, demonstrating a confrontational approach.
     According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, President Xi at the talks with Trump asserted Beijing’s basic stance on Taiwan, Tibet and the South China Sea. Xi also proposed anew to suspend both North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and U.S.-South Korea joint military drills and reiterated opposition to the United States’ planned deployment of the terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea. The indications are that the United States and China have refused to compromise on the key security issues.

Base for managing differences
     The problem is that both Tillerson and Wang explained that Trump and Xi agreed on “managing differences based on mutual respect.”
     During his visit to China in March, Tillerson mentioned that the U.S.-China relationship had been guided by “mutual trust” and “win-win cooperation,” triggering a controversy in the United States. Tillerson was criticized for carelessly parroting Xi’s words he had used for urging the previous Obama administration to build a “New Model of Great Power Relations” and demanding as its pillar mutual respect for core interests. The problematic term reemerged in the latest agreement between the U.S. and Chinese presidents.
     Xi apparently did not ask Trump to build the “New Model of Great Power Relations” as far as I checked Chinese official news agency Xinhua’s reports translated into Japanese. If China demands mutual respect for core interests, however, Xi’s policy to the United States has not changed basically.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.