Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has requested to meet US President Barack Obama in Los Angeles during his first foreign tour. The two leaders will surely have much to discuss.
China has a number of pressing political and economic issues to address at the moment, not least foreign relations, for now is possibly China’s most isolated time since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power.
During a visit to Pakistan late last month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) issued a joint statement with his “iron brother” and “all-weather friend,” and Xinhua news agency had to recall its original reports on Li’s statements about continued cooperation against “terrorism, separatism and extremism” and exclude it from its news reports.
Since the Tiananmen Square Massacre of June 4, 1989, China has consistently attempted to leverage Russia when trying to guard against the kind of “peaceful evolution” — the hope that despotic regimes might gradually develop democracy, freedom and prosperity by means other than violent revolution — that the US would ideally like to see happen.
It was for this reason Beijing finally settled a dispute over the 1.56 million square kilometers of territory along the Chinese-Russian border it claimed Tsarist Russia had unfairly annexed as part of one of the unequal treaties forced upon the Manchu Qing imperial government in the 19th century.
Russia was Xi’s first destination after becoming president in March.
This should have been a major political coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the Russian media had other things in mind. It had become fixated with the potential meeting of the two first ladies, as Xi was to be accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛). However, this became a one-woman show, as Putin’s wife, Lyudmila Putina, failed to make an appearance for the entire duration of the visit.
Soon after Xi’s departure, Putin played host to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The reason for Putin’s Janus maneuver was surely his unease at the consistent territorial demands China is making of its neighboring countries. Siberia, after all, is already home to many Chinese immigrants. Other neighboring states, less powerful than Russia, are even more unsettled by China’s increasingly aggressive attitude. The invocation of the phrase “since antiquity” seems sufficient for China to make territorial demands of other states, and this is backed up with military menace.
It is no wonder these neighboring states welcome the US’ “return to Asia.”
All Xi needs do to ameliorate this situation is to show goodwill to the US, and the general feeling is that Xi will, indeed, show respect for US as the superior power, and maybe even do it some favors. The problem is the considerable influence the elite “princelings” set has in the Chinese military.
Dizzy with the success of China’s recent rise, they are pushing for military expansionism, and hold that anyone objecting to this policy is a traitor to the Chinese.
Is all this goodwill on Xi’s part one-way, or is he looking for something in return?
If China is serious about promoting peaceful foreign relations and creating conditions conducive to reform, the US will certainly be willing to help. If, however, if he is doing this in exchange for a break-up of the US-Japan alliance, he has his work cut out for him.