On the eve of US President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Washington experts have predicted that since Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) will not become China’s president until the National People’s Congress in March, China-US ties “may be adrift in the coming months.”
The forecast was made by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia adviser Bonnie Glaser and CSIS research associate Brittany Billingsley in a recently published article in CSIS’ e-journal on East Asian bilateral relations.
With tensions over Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese claims to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — which Japan calls the Senkakus — reaching a dangerous level, uncertainty on ties between Washington and Beijing could hardly come at a worse time.
Obama is to be sworn into office in a closed ceremony in the White House’s Blue Room today, followed by a public ceremony on Capitol Hill the next day.
If the US’ constitutionally required swearing in date of Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday, the president is formally sworn in on that day and takes the oath again in public the next day.
In their article, Glaser and Billingsley said that both China and the US recognize that there is a lack of mutual strategic trust and both have misgivings about the other nation’s strategic intentions. While both countries appreciate the “critical importance” of the US-China relationship to regional and global peace and stability “a similar pattern of tension comingled with cooperation is likely in the coming year.”
Glaser and Billingsley called for an early meeting this year between Obama and Xi “to set a positive tone, reaffirm US and Chinese commitment to cooperation and perhaps establish a new consensus.”
“The US and China have been discussing the meaning of a ‘new type of major power relations’ first proposed by Xi during his visit to the US last February. Reaching an understanding on this concept along with a plan to implement it would be a worthwhile objective,” they added.
For both Xi and Obama, domestic priorities are likely to occupy most of their time in the coming year, Glaser and Billingsley said.
The US needs to get its fiscal situation in order, reduce unemployment and manage rising healthcare costs, among other challenges, they said.
China also has a long list of pressing issues, they added.
They said that Beijing needs to shift to a consumption-driven economy, provide better governance, reduce corruption and reverse environmental degradation.
“If both sides can begin to effectively address their respective domestic problems, the chances of improving bilateral ties will increase commensurately,” Glaser and Billingsley said.
In an interview following a lecture by Tamkang University Professor Ho Szu-yin (何思因) in Washington on Friday, Glaser said that she was “concerned” about the possibility of a military clash between China and Japan over the Diaoyutais dispute.
“Some accident or mishap could be very damaging to everyone in the region,” she said. “Steps taken over the last few months and particularly over the last several weeks are escalatory and really testing the bottom lines.”
Domestic political circumstances in both Japan and China are making it “very, very difficult” for compromise and “quiet discussions” were needed to defuse the tensions.
She said the dispute should be “put back on the shelf” because it could not be solved in the near term.
“I have no idea what the US is telling Japan, but we do not dictate to our allies,” Glaser said.