By Dr Subhash Kapila*
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States last week cannot be said to be all that fruitful, taking place contextually against the backdrop of the large number of divisive issues that divide China and the United States and the ongoing election debate in USA in which India seems to be emerging as the American favourite in United States formulations.
One could straightaway observe initially, that the Chinese President’s visit to USA has taken place at an inauspicious time when chinks have appeared in China’s greatest strength, that is, its powerful economy. The global community was left gaping to witness that the Chinese impregnable economic bubble had eventually burst. China may not be economically down and out but the Chinese economy has lost its momentum and renowned economists opine that the Chinese economy was in for a period of sluggish growth.
The above weakens China’s leverages and bargaining power with the United States when the Chinese President sat down for talks with the US President. In his first stop at Seattle to meet top US business leaders went out of the way to assure US business leaders that China would not indulge in currency manipulation to increase Chinese exports; China would not allow industrial espionage against US companies and open Chinese markets more for US businesses. All of this, indicative of the fact that China feared a blow-back from US businesses in trade with China.
The Chinese President’s visit has come at a time when it is observed in US media that China’s relations with USA are most adversarial. It also came at a time when the Pope’s visit to USA overshadowed the Chinese President’s visit to USA.
Topping the list of the major irritant in US ties with China is the issue of China’s unrestrained cyberespionage against the US Governmental organs and the US leading businesses.
President Obama was constrained to express on this subject to the Chinese President that: “Traditional intelligence gathering…. is fundamentally different from your government and its proxies engaging directly in industrial espionage and stealing trade secrets, stealing proprietary information from companies. That we consider an act of aggression that must stop.”
Strong words by President Obama but they precisely reflect the strong feelings within the US Administration on China’s unrestrained cyberespionage against the United States leave aside the extensive hacking of US official organs all the time.
The next major irritant is China’s lack of restraint in its aggressive initiatives and manoeuvres in the South China Sea in which the United States has repeatedly cautioned China for restraint. The United States had also cautioned China that it must stop the construction of artificial islands for use as naval and air force bases and missiles emplacements. China has constantly defied the United States on this score and the United States is conscious that this is denting its image in Asian capitals to restrain China.
In the ongoing election year political debates in the United States, China is drawing adverse criticism on the issues recounted above. China’s adversarial stances on these issues are providing cannon fodder to the presidential contenders. Since perceptions count heavily today in international relations, the negative perceptions of China will weigh heavily on the American public who are likely to favour the candidate propagating the strongest American stands against China.
The Chinese President in his interactions with business leaders in Seattle declared that “If China and the United States cooperate well, they can become bedrock of global stability. Should they enter into conflict or confrontation, it would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large.”
The above reveal two Chinese concerns with the first one being that China has strong concerns that all is not well in China-USA relations. The second concern is that confrontation looms over the horizon.
Concluding, one has to observe that during the Chinese President’s visit to United States, no deliverables from either side surfaced despite the visit of the US National Security Adviser to Beijing in August to search for some. On the rebound, it is India that is reaping favourable special references from presidential contenders.
*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]