Squeezed between the U.S., China

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Squeezed between the U.S., China

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United Kingdom can be summed up with a photo showing him and British Prime Minister David Cameron having beer at a pub. It conveyed the message that the friendship between the two countries is so solid that formality is not necessary.

China is courting the United Kingdom, the U.S.’s global strategic partner, by pouring 40 billion pounds ($61 billion) in investment and trade. London must be sensitive that Washington feels uncomfortable with Beijing’s gesture.

Xi and Cameron were drinking a Green King IPA, or India pale ale, a type of beer sent to the Brits living in India during the colonial days. To prevent the taste from changing while traveling and preserve the quality, the beer was prepared using more hops and a higher alcohol content. IPA is known for its unique bitter taste and aroma.

Coincidentally, the United States and China are experiencing a subtle clash in the South China Sea. Washington has made security investments in India for over a decade to prepare for a possible confrontation with China. To check on China’s advancement into the Indian Ocean, the United States and India have beefed up maritime security cooperation. The United States sold its aircraft takeoff system on a carrier to India and is providing assistance with the design. It is intended to deter China’s challenge by sending the message that controlling the South China Sea is meaningless.

However, the competition between Washington and Beijing over these strategic maritime routes is not likely to be limited to the South China Sea. While the gap in naval and air force strength between the United States and China is obvious, the tension in the South China Sea is sporadic. But Taiwan is a whole different story.

The Taiwanese presidential election is coming up in January, and the shift in power from the Kuomintang, which initiated reconciliation with China, to the Democratic Progressive Party, which advocates Taiwan’s independence, is very likely. A Taiwanese reporter with whom I became friends while working as a Hong Kong correspondent recently showed me his passport. Among the young Taiwanese, it was a trend to put the label “The Republic of Taiwan” on the passport cover that says “The Republic of China.” Many of them are Democratic Progressive Party supporters. Once the party takes power, confrontational policies against China are likely to gain momentum.

The Taiwan issue applies more pressure on Xi’s leadership than that of the South China Sea. The Obama administration is also closely watching the situation in Taiwan. Now, the main field of strategic competition between the United States and China is going to be the Taiwan Strait, and when tension elevates in this waterway where more than 90 percent of strategic commodities pass through, Korea and Japan will be directly affected. The upcoming trilateral talks between Korea, China and Japan are not, in fact, so far removed from our daily lives.

The author is a deputy political news editor at JTBC.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 29, Page 34

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