By Dr Subhash Kapila*
The United States and Chinese Presidents’ meet in April 2017 at a Trump resort in Florida, USA, is no big deal viewing that this Presidential Meet is not being held in Washington to qualify as a ‘Mega Summit’.
The Chinese President seems to relish one-to-one informal meets with the US President away from attendant Washington officialdom which afford greater visibility to the Chinese President in global optics and be perceived as having attained an equivalent status with the US President.
In fact, despite respective national interests of United States and China for an early Presidential Meet, US President Trump cannot afford to ignore the overwhelming sentiment in Asia Pacific capitals that it is high time that US President Trump reads the “Riot Act’ to the Chinese President on China’s unrestrained aggressive rampage on the Asian landscape and Asian maritime expanses constituting ‘global commons’. Failure of the US President to do so would not only impact President Trump’s personal image of cowering down in face of Chinese President’s arrogance and veiled threats but also impact the standing of the United States in Asian capitals.
President Trump also has to live down the image in Asian capitals that by withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership, much publicised by previous President Obama, the field has been left open to China by President Trump to coercively push through his own version of the TPP.
Any further climb-down by US President Trump at the Florida Meet would only confirm the persisting notion that US President resorting to strong rhetoric against China during his election campaign but soon after election as President down sliding into China-appeasement policies presumably favoured by the US State Department and the US Big Businesses.
The contextual backdrop of the uneasy events and unwarranted reactions of China to US President Trump’s accepting a telephonic congratulatory call from Taiwan’s President and President Trump’s strong condemnation of China’s unfair trade practises and currency manipulation, are indicative of the frailty of US-China relations.
Inevitability of a US-China Summit Meet was a foregone conclusion, but that the Presidential Meet is taking place in a Florida resort suggests that the forthcoming meet of US President Trump and Chinese President Xi cannot be taken as nothing more than a transactional meet between the lone Superpower and China with pretensions of being a superpower.
China with no natural allies to bolster its status and besieged on its peripheries has an impulsive urge to be seen as the ‘strategic equivalent’ of the United States, has played its cards behind the scenes to inveigle an invitation for a US-China presidential Meet. China, as per some media reports, attempted to soften the ground for such a Meet by giving approval to nearly three dozen patents of Trump enterprises and also a multi-billion dollar real estate deal in the offing with the US President’s son-in-law’s family concerns
China is also perturbed with United States deployment of THAAD anti-missile systems in South Korea which are ostensibly aimed at North Korean provocations and existentially degrade the credibility of China’s nuclear arsenal.
China also has signalled that it would be willing to discuss contentious trade issues which bother the United States and have invited strong criticisms from US President Trump. By indicating readiness to discuss trade issues, China seems to be attempting to mute US strong criticisms which also would have a global impact. China is also worried that any strong-arm approaches by the United States on trade matters could result in China losing access to advanced US technologies.
China also has another strong reason to cosy-up to US President Trump and that pertains to the US President’s personal inclinations to reset US-Russia relations and place them on a sound cooperative footing. China seems to have been rattled by that eventuality and would like to forestall that development.
The United States also had an incentive for such a Meet as it hopes that China would be able to restrain North Korea from its nuclear weapons and missiles firings endangering security of United States loyal allies in the region, namely, Japan and South Korea.
The United States should be well aware that for over a decade now when China could have clamped down heavily on North Korea’s nuclear weapons adventurism, China did not do so. China on the contrary further assisted in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme acquiring more threatening contours.
China cannot be expected to give up the leverages of playing the ‘North Korea Nuclear Card’ not only against the United States but more against Japan. So how does the US policy establishment reasonably expect that China would apply meaningful brakes against North Korea? How can the US policy establishment reasonably expect that a transactional meet between the Chinese President and US President Trump would veer China away from its confirmed strategic pressure points?
The United States has many more strategic pressure points against China but has so far not employed them hoping that China would emerge as a responsible stakeholder in global affairs. This has been a vain hope reinforced by China’s demonstrated performance of destabilising moves against the United States and its allies. Hence any positive initiatives by China cannot be logically expected except for minor transactional concession to USA to tide over a difficult geopolitical patch.
With rising calls within United States official circles that proven reciprocity by China should form the basis of any US-China reset of relations under President Trump and that China should be made accountable to redeem the promises that it makes to the United States, it seems that the scheduled meeting of President Trump with Chinese President Xi would end up as no big deal.
Concluding, one would like to observe, as one has done for nearly two decades that in the 21st Century, China and the United States are destined for an inevitable clash of arms and possibly North Korea may be the fuse that ignites it, the sheer reason being that China would never ever give up the exploitation of the ‘North Korea Nuclear Card’ against the United States and Japan. Additionally, China is under the mistaken notion that the United States would persist with its ‘Risk Aversion’ policy.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]