Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan is unlikely to be high on Xi’s agenda

By Lin Cheng-yi 林正義

In February, the White House announced that it had invited the leaders of four Asian nations to the US: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo. This is the setting in which Xi is making his first state visit to the US.

In April, when Abe was visiting the US, he addressed the US Congress and issued a joint declaration with his host.

During the current visit, Xi might do as he did when he met US President Barack Obama on the past two occasions — at the Rancho Mirage in California in 2013 and after the APEC leaders’ meeting in Beijing last year: Hold a joint press conference after the meeting, but stop short of making a joint declaration.

The biggest challenge for China-US relations is the lack of strategic trust between the two governments. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans with a negative impression of China has gone up from 40 percent to 55 percent since Xi assumed power, with members of the Republican Party more likely to have feelings of enmity toward China than Democrats. Also, Obama and members of the Congress have continued to be critical of China over alleged cyberattacks from the People’s Liberation Army, land reclamation in the South China Sea, development of a military force capable of engaging the US in asymmetric warfare and the nation’s poor record on human rights.

Xi has proposed a “new model of great power relations” between China and the US. The model is, on the surface, about mutual respect, cooperation and a lack of conflict in Asia. However, in practice it is about Xi regarding Obama’s strategic shift of balance to the Asia-Pacific region as an attempt at laying siege to China.

Xi has been implementing a series of measures to counter the pivot: setting up a new air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, founding the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, launching the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and constructing a runway on the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), which Taiwan also claims. The moves are intended to reduce the US’ influence in the region.

However, there are points where the two sides can cooperate: climate change, sustainable energy, attacks from the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a bilateral investment treaty, the Information Technology Agreement, and cultural and local exchanges.

Xi’s visit to Seattle was mainly about commercial interests. In Washington he will try to portray an image of international cooperation between the US and China. However, when he addresses the UN in New York, however, Xi will likely sing the praises of China’s development model, which would bring the US’ declining global status into sharper focus.

Xi is the head of almost 10 different task force groups within the Chinese Communist Party’s government structure, and wants to tackle corruption on one hand while chasing the “Chinese dream” on the other, all the while dealing with the new reality of slower economic growth. With all the issues at hand, the Taiwan question is unlikely to be high on his list of priorities.

For Obama, the “new model of great power relations” will be more of an issue of balance. He would want Xi to take more international responsibility, be more transparent and respect the results of Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election.

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