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TWO ARTICLES ON US-CHINA RELATIONS #506

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Graham Perry
Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.

GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON

08 APRIL 2024  #506

TWO ARTICLES ON US-CHINA RELATIONS

#1 BIDEN AND XI HAVE A LONG CONVERSATION

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

#2 MAJORITY OF ASEAN PEOPLE FAVOUR  CHINA OVER USA

NIKKEI ASIA

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#1    BIDEN AND XI HAVE A LONG CONVERSATION        SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

“President Biden held a rare direct phone call with President Xi in an attempt to defuse tensions over Taiwan, the South China Sea and trade in high-tech products.

Officials on both sides described the talks as “candid” and “constructive” but made clear that the two men also clashed on a wide range of issues.

Biden complained about Chinese support for Russia’s military-industrial complex, while Xi hinted at dissatisfaction over United States support for “independence forces” in Taiwan

Biden raised concerns about TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, which US officials have said is a surveillance tool for Beijing, and condemned “unfair market practices” by the Chinese. Xi countered with criticism of US sanctions imposed against companies transferring high-tech products, particularly the latest cutting-edge computer chips, to China. Washington claims they could be used to challenge the US militarily, but Beijing sees the sanctions as an attempt to prevent it developing economically.

“If the US side is willing to seek mutually beneficial co-operation and share in China’s development dividends, it will always find China’s door open,” Xi said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry account of the conversation. “But if it is adamant on containing China’s high-tech development and depriving it of its legitimate right to development, China is not going to sit back and watch.”

The call, which lasted an hour and 45 minutes, was the first between the leaders since July — an indication of the frosty relationship between the world’s old and new superpowers.

There was an attempt to repair the relationship when Xi visited the US for a regional summit in San Francisco in November. That meeting led to breakthroughs in some areas, with the resumption of talks between the two countries’ militaries, co-operation on tackling the synthetic opioid fentanyl and a promise of more pandas for American zoos.

However, there was no agreement on substantial geopolitical issues, including the growing risk of war over Taiwan and the South China Sea, most of which China claims, despite opposition from other southeast Asian nations. Biden said after the November visit that he still thought of Xi as a “dictator”.

A senior US administration official said before yesterday’s phone call that Biden wanted consistent dialogue with Xi to ensure “responsible management of the relationship”.

On Taiwan, Biden reaffirmed America’s “One China” policy but insisted that he would oppose any attempt by China to bring the island under its control. He revisited concerns about Chinese military operations in the South China Sea, including attempts to block the Philippines from resupplying its forces on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal.

Biden also warned Xi not to interfere in the US presidential election in November and to rein in cyberattacks on American infrastructure. The Department of Justice charged seven Chinese nationals last week over a cyberattack on the US that spanned more than a decade. Britain has also accused Chinese hackers of accessing databases, including those of the Electoral Commission.

The House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would impose a nationwide ban on TikTok if its Chinese owner, ByteDance, does not sell its stake in the app. Biden has said he will sign the bill if it clears Congress. China said last month that a ban would “inevitably come back to bite the United States”.

There were some positive notes, however: the US believes that it can co-operate with China on countering any threat posed by artificial intelligence (AI). Beijing co-sponsored a resolution on the technology at the UN last month and US officials expect to announce a bilateral dialogue aiming to manage “the risk and safety challenges posed by advanced forms of AI”.

John Kirby, the US national security spokesman, told reporters: “We believe that there is no substitute for regular communication at the leader level to effectively manage this complex and often tense relationship. Both presidents agreed to pick up the phone and speak when needed.”

But a senior US administration official added: “I don’t think we ever really take China at their word when they say they will or will not do something.”

The first phone call in nearly two years between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden conveyed stability overall in a bilateral relationship previously marked by contention on all fronts, while also signalling a deepening disconnect on tech restrictions and economic disputes, analysts said.

With both sides using “candid” and “constructive” as key descriptors for the talk – and expressing a willingness to build on a foundation laid down when the two leaders met face-to-face in November – they allowed space to air grievances diplomatically but in no uncertain terms.

During the call, Xi accused the US of launching “an endless stream of measures to suppress China’s economy, trade, science and technology” as more mainland companies have been added to American sanction lists, according to Xinhua.

“This is not de-risking, but creation of risks,”  Xi is reported as saying. “If the US insists on suppressing China’s hi-tech development and depriving China of its legitimate right to develop, we will not sit idly by,” he added.

Biden, meanwhile, said the US would continue to take necessary actions to prevent advanced American technologies from being used to undermine US national security, without unduly limiting trade and investment, according to a White House statement.

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

It is always preferable if adversaries talk rather than do not talk. Hot lines are needed in times of crisis and it is best for both sides if the hot lines are put in place before hostilities occur rather than hastily assembled as relations deteriorate and become tense. But “talking” is not the same as “agreeing” and there remains a growing difference of priorities between Beijing and Washington.

There is a Micro and a Macro at work. The Micro is the detail – the US trying to close TikTok; working closely with the UK and Australia to develop the AUKUS project to build nuclear submarines; and increasing tariffs on imports from China. In turn, China is strengthening the internal surveillance of US firms in China; promoting its relationships with countries from the Global South; and irritating the US with the ongoing success of Huawei.

The Macro is the overall global perspective with the struggle of the US to maintain its superpower role as China is about to become the largest economy in the world. Leading nations rarely leave the stage peacefully or in an orderly fashion – recall the frantic scenes of panic and desperation in 1975 as desperate US soldiers scrambled to climb aboard helicopters from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon and, in Afghanistan as local Afghans blocked the airport runway in Kabul as US forces departed in panic.

The US remains a powerful country. It is still the world’s largest superpower but, first, is it on the slide and, second, is the vacuum it created being filled by a confident China? Two questions and two answers; – Yes, the US is on the slide and No, China will not become a superpower.

The US views China as a threat to world peace and there are frequent references from the US military to the possibility of War between a struggling US and a revived China. China must fall into line – the US insists.

China sees things through a different lense and views the US as a country still with a significant role to play in world affairs going forward providing it does not obstruct or impede the development of a confident China. “There is room for us both” says China.

China knows it is becoming a major power but stresses it has no ambition to follow in the footsteps of the US and become a dominating  military superpower. A country that is about to become the largest economy in the world has no cruisers sailing off the coast of San Francisco or patrolling the sea routes of Latin-America or Africa or Asia. China has advanced USD1 trillion to 130 countries without backing its loans with soldiers or sailors or air crews or missiles or bases or weapons of mass destruction.

China knows that it is growing in size, in importance, in influence and Westerners – used to the terminology that the US created about the Cold War (Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri) view China from the perspective of George Kennan, John Foster Dulles and US Presidents from Harry Truman (1945 to 1953) onwards – see China as the “New Bear” – the successor to Lenin and Stalin.

China views matters quite differently. Instead of a US-China race to be the #1Superpower that calls the shots in all the key world hot spots, China sees the world with a multi-polar character. China may be growing fast today but in due course they will be joined by Indonesia, Nigeria, India, South Africa, Brazil as well as Russia. And in the centuries ahead other new geographical entities will come to the fore including new European power structures, Vietnam, Argentine and equally new power structures in Africa led by Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The constant is Change. The Temporary is Today. Today is always changing and strategies for the future are always in the process of construction.

The dominant theme of today is how far the US will go in trying to bring to China to order. The US  has two options – peace and accommodation or war and destruction. And this is why it is important to recall how historians view the rise and fall of regimes but with one important difference re the present. This is the era of mass destruction. Countries have the capacity to destroy and kill on a scale never imagined by earlier large Imperialisms. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 comes to mind. Kennedy and Kruschev both blinked and conceded. Kennedy withdrew missiles in Turkey aimed at the USSR and Kruschev withdrew missiles aimed at the US from Cuba.

Hot Lines are important to minimise the risk war breaking out through miscalculation but those Lines deal with the moments of acute pressure. They are not a substitute for deep-seated thorough going analysis of the rise and fall of Power. So mindful of the Big Picture, the Macro and the rise and fall of Powers, Biden meets with Xi and Xi agrees to meet with Biden so that leaders can listen, analyse and review the many micros that are at the heart of the overall US-China confrontation – semiconductors, Taiwan, the South Pacific Islands, tariffs and quotas, de-coupling and de-risking, Gaza and the Ukraine.

Talking is about assessing. The conversations update the analysis both sides have of each other. So talks matter but there is still the fundamental re-assessment and review of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It is the de-brief that is so fascinating and of course that is done by each side in the privacy of the highest echelons of their power structure.

So, we as onlookers do search for key conclusions as evidence of changes that are taking place in the balance of power. And one of the most important changes is the focus of #2 article below.

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#2    MAJORITY OF ASEAN PEOPLE PREFER CHINA TO USA

NIKKEI ASIA

“Over half of Southeast Asians would now prefer to align with China over the U.S. if ASEAN were forced to choose between the rival superpowers, a regional survey by a Singapore-based think tank showed Tuesday, reflecting Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

According to the State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey, compiled by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 50.5% of respondents opted for China and 49.5% preferred the U.S. if ASEAN had to pick sides — the first time Beijing edged past Washington since the annual survey started asking the question in 2020.

Last year’s survey showed 38.9% preferred China and 61.1% chose the U.S.

The think tank’s flagship survey polls people from the private and public sectors, as well as academics and researchers in Southeast Asia. Hence, it presents the prevailing attitudes among those in a position to inform or influence policy on regional issues.

“It seems like this is the beginning of a trend as … this is the first time China has actually [edged past the U.S.],” Danny Quah, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said on Tuesday during an online seminar on the latest annual report. “But if we look at the underlying data, it is actually more like a seesaw pattern than a trend.”

Among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the possible alignment to China was most evident among respondents from Malaysia, at 75.1%, followed by Indonesia and Laos at 73.2% and 70.6%. They all have benefited significantly from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and robust trade relations.

China has been Malaysia’s top trading partner for over a decade and has invested billions across key sectors. Last year, the Malaysian government said the Chinese automaker Geely, which holds a 49.9% stake in local partner Proton, would invest around $10 billion in Malaysia’s automaking hub in the western state of Perak.

Reflecting Indonesia’s strong economic ties, President-elect and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto on Monday met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in his first overseas visit after winning the election. Last year, Southeast Asia’s largest economy opened the region’s first high-speed railway, which was jointly built with China.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-owned companies are stepping up investments in power infrastructure in Laos, which counts Beijing as its top investor.

Conversely, the U.S. has seen a decline in its popularity as the preferred superpower.

Washington gained strong support from the Philippines and Vietnam at 83.3% and 79%, which in part reflects tensions the two have with China due to overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

However, a separate question regarding Washington’s Southeast Asia policy revealed that 38.2% feel the level of U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia has decreased under the administration of President Joe Biden, topping the 25.2% who said it has increased.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund, a U.S.-based think tank, noted the decline in trust and perception of decreased engagement from the U.S. is notable, adding that its performance has been “a disappointment.”

“There is a high level of expectation in Southeast Asia and desire for U.S. engagement, particularly different kinds of engagement than the U.S. is actually offering,” Glaser said. As an example, she raised the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) that lacks the concept of market access, which involves reducing or eliminating tariffs.

Yet the survey showed that Southeast Asians do not want to choose sides at all. Asked how ASEAN should respond to the intensifying U.S.-China rivalry, just 8% said the bloc has to choose between them because remaining neutral is impractical, while 46.8% said it should prioritize bolstering its resilience and unity to counter pressure from both the U.S. and China.

Other findings of the survey include that 59.5% of the respondents see China as the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia, far ahead of the U.S. at 14.3%. Meanwhile, 43.9% said China is the most influential political power in the region, versus America’s 25.8%.

“[The report] is a statement of the fact that people think China has become the most influential economic power,” said Quah of NUS. “But at the same time … levels of concern about the degree of influence are actually extremely high.”

He added, “The fact that China is acknowledged as most influential does not mean acceptance of them, similarly if it were the U.S.”

The survey was conducted between Jan. 3 and Feb. 23, collecting answers from 1,994 people. Among the respondents, 33.7% were from the private sector; 24.5% from the government; 23.6% from academia, think tanks and research institutions; 12.7% from nongovernment organizations and media; and the remaining 5.6% from regional or international organizations.

GRAHAM PERRY COMMENTS;-

A significant  regional survey has been carried out by a Singapore-based think tank which reflects Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

The think tank is the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. They found  that 50.5% of respondents opted for China and 49.5% preferred the U.S. if ASEAN had to pick sides. This is the first time  — the first time Beijing has  edged past Washington since the annual survey started asking the question in 2020. Last year’s survey showed 38.9% preferred China and 61.1% chose the U.S.

Other findings of the survey include that 59.5% of the respondents see China as the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia, far ahead of the U.S. at 14.3%. Meanwhile, 43.9% said China is the most influential political power in the region, versus America’s 25.8%.

The think tank’s flagship survey polls people from the private and public sectors, as well as academics and researchers in Southeast Asia. Hence, it presents the prevailing attitudes among those in a position to inform or influence policy on regional issues.

“It seems like this is the beginning of a trend as … this is the first time China has actually [edged past the U.S.],” Danny Quah, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said on Tuesday during an online seminar on the latest annual report.

Among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the possible alignment to China was most evident among respondents from Malaysia, at 75.1%, followed by Indonesia and Laos at 73.2% and 70.6%. They all have benefited significantly from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and robust trade relations.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund, a U.S.-based think tank, noted the decline in trust and perception of decreased engagement from the U.S. is notable, adding that its performance has been “a disappointment.”

A warning – this is just one set of figures but they show a trend which shows growing China popularity and growing US unpopularity and that is consistent with a world trend which points to the rise of China and the decline of the US. This is not a soccer match where one team scores a good win and jumps ahead of its rivals. This is geo-politics and the Rise and Fall of Powers and not just about increased trade. These figures reflect the Micro developments in all aspects of political activity and taken together provide an overall macro view about the direction in which the wind is blowing.

The significance is that this survey comes in the middle of a Washington inspired worldwide campaign to denigrate China. The US has tries to persuade the world that China is guilty of genocide; that China lies, cheats and distorts at will; that China seeks world power by forcing other countries to accept en masse goods heavily subsidised; that China patrols the South China Sea with just one aim – to expand its territory and force countries into submission. And the context? The US is the declining superpower being overtaken by a resurgent China.

The world is unsafe. There are powerful voices who see which way the wind is blowing and that the US is being challenged as never before. Now, say the US  Military, is the time to strike at China. The tensions between the White House, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff must be rising as action papers are placed before President Biden.

Washington is not all of one mind. For sure, there are those who advise the Oval Office to strike at China today because China will be even stronger tomorrow. Equally, there are others who say it is better to recognise that the world trend is running in favour of China and to jump aboard and pursue a policy of co-operation before it is too late.

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