Author: Yang Sheng
Posted on: Global Times, December 26th, 2016
China and the US stuck to the mixed path of cooperation and competition when it comes to the economy, security, diplomacy, science; and the coming year will still see this combination filled with both uncertainty and potential.
The ties between the largest developing country and the largest developed country; the biggest and second biggest economic entities, is the most important bilateral relationship in the modern world.
When Donald Trump won the US presidential election in November, President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message, saying that «China is the world’s largest developing country and the US, the largest developed power, both, as the world’s top economies, bear the special responsibility of maintaining world peace and stability and boosting global development and prosperity, and share extensive interests.»
On Thursday, after Trump appointed China critic Peter Navarro to lead a new office in the White House to oversee trade and industrial policy, Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, reaffirmed that «cooperation is the only right choice for the two sides.»
Dealing with global warming
China-US cooperation has successfully helped many serious problems facing the international community, such as the Iranian nuclear issue; and both sides are still cooperating on several unsolved problems. There was one shinning example in 2016: the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 4 spoke highly of the ratification of the landmark Paris climate change agreement by China and the US, calling for other countries to join the ambitious pact.
At a press conference on the sidelines of the G20 summit held in September in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Ban described the «historic step» made by China and the US, and he praised the «outstanding leadership» demonstrated by China and the US.
China Central Television reported that China and the US’s greenhouse gas emissions account for 42 percent of the worldwide total.
«China-US cooperation cannot solve every problem in the world, but without China-US cooperation, almost nothing could be solved effectively,» said Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at the Renmin University of China.
Wang stressed that «the Paris Climate Change Agreement is a classic example for China-US cooperation, but due to Trump’ victory, and the Republicans hold a negative view of this agreement, its future is still in question.»
«Trump’s uncertainty on climate change agreements has highlighted China’s responsibility as a great power,» Chu Yin, an associate professor at the International Relations University (IRU), told the Global Times. «Despite future US moves, China will keep up its efforts and promises.»
Changes in the South China Sea
«The competition part of China-US relations increased in 2016,» Wang said, and in strategic and economic areas, the interdependency between China and the US is decreasing. «The South China Sea» is the key phrase for China-US competition in 2016, and from July to October, the situation changed dramatically.
The arbitration tribunal in The Hague announced its ruling against Chinese claims in the South China Sea on July 12, and under US leadership, the Philippines, Japan and other states started to push China to submit.
Afterward, the US State Department issued a press statement saying that the ruling of the tribunal is legally binding on both China and the Philippines.
China’s response was clear. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said on July 13 that «we urge the US to think over its words and deeds, stop advertising the illegal arbitration and meddling with the South China Sea issue, and cease undermining China’s sovereignty and security interests and escalating regional tensions.»
After Rodrigo Duterte became Philippine president, he visited China and met with Xi in October, and he agreed to settle the disputes with China.
«The US just used the Philippines to serve its Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy, but what the Philippines needs is development and a society without drugs. The US shows no real support in these areas and even criticized Duterte’s campaign against drug dealers,» Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times.
Before Duterte’s visit, he told Xinhua that «only China can help us.»
However, friction in the South China Sea is ongoing. On December 15, the Chinese navy seized a US underwater drone in the region, with President-elect Trump saying that China had «stolen» US property.
China has handed the drone back to the US, China’s Ministry of National Defense stated on November 20.
Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis
China and the US have cooperated on passing UN Security Council resolutions to place sanctions on North Korea after its two nuclear tests in 2016.
However, due to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system which will be deployed in South Korea in 2017, China and the US will also have competition in the peninsula. China strongly opposes the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, and if the US doesn’t change its plans then the nuclear situation on the peninsula will become more complex, IRU associate professor Chu Yin said.
2017, the year of uncertainty
Recently, besides the appointment of Navarro, Trump has made many provocative comments which have offended China such as calling Tsai Ing-wen «the president of Taiwan.»
The possibility of a trade war between the US and China is high and it may start early next year, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at CASS Diao Daming, told the Global Times.
China needs to prepare for a potential trade war with the US, Jin Canrong, associate dean of the Department of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, suggested, such as identifying what products China must get from the US and what it can get from other countries, and also in what areas China has advantages over the US.
However, Jin believes that China and the US will not fall into the «Thucydides trap,» which says a war between a rising power and an existing power is certain, even though China will face a provocative US in the future, because the need for cooperation is bigger than the disputes.
Jin stressed that the key to preventing conflict is «China taking more responsibility for the US; the US sharing more power with China.»
China and the US might have friction over Taiwan and Japan in 2017, Chu said, but «we also receive information that Trump is interested by the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, so cooperation with Trump is also possible.»
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