Cracks in Sino-U.S. ties

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Cracks in Sino-U.S. ties

One month before President-elect Donald J. Trump is sworn in as president of the United States, the tension between Washington and Beijing is rapidly increasing. Given Trump’s hard-line stance against China as revealed in his campaign, the conflict was foreseeable from the start.

But considering the frequent friction between America and China over economic and military affairs, their deepening antipathy towards each other rings loud alarm bells. Following Trump’s denial of the “One China” policy — the backbone of Sino-U.S. relations for decades — in his telephone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this month, the U.S. and China filed a WTO complaint against each other last week. In addition, after the seizure by the Chinese navy of a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea, Trump hinted at a possibility of retaliation by saying that he does not want to get the drone back. Such a hostile tit for tat is ratcheting up the tension fast.

Many attributed Trump’s “China bashing” to his businessman-like strategy to take the upper hand in the United States’ negotiations with China down the road. But Trump’s recent moves to reinforce the U.S.’ relations with Russia in inverse proportion to his anti-China posture is viewed as an effort to hold China in check through the revival of the Russo-U.S. détente. In other words, the current standoff between the two superpowers could be a result of confrontation on a bigger geopolitical paradigm — not simply over taking economic gains.

If that’s the case, Korea will most likely face a tough diplomatic challenge ahead. As long as the Sino-U.S. strain is prolonged and heightened, our diplomacy will be forced to choose between the two countries. In particular, we are concerned about Trump’s remarks that China is not willing to help resolve the North Korean nuclear issue even after its development of nuclear weapons. Trump made the remarks when pointing to a number of trade disputes with China, including over China’s alleged manipulation of the yuan’s exchange rates with the U.S. dollar. We are worried about the possibility of Trump using the North Korean nuclear issue as a bargaining chip in pressuring China.

Under the Barack Obama and Xi Jinping governments, the two countries saw fracas over many areas, but at least they spoke with one voice when it came to the nuclear issue. It is time for our government to demonstrate creative diplomatic skills not to allow the Sino-U.S. hostility to drive a wedge between them and damage their cooperation in addressing nuclear threats.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 20, page 30
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