A meeting of US and Chinese minds in the City of Angels
For two days next week, the US and Chinese Presidents will meet near Los Angeles for a historic ‘get to know you.’ There is much to discuss but pre-meetings last September in China involving Secretary of Defense Panetta and more recently on May 28th with US National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, suggest five key points.
The Korean Peninsula will likely top the list. North Korea’s recent race to the nuclear cliff has tested Beijing’s patience with Kim Jong-un. On May 22nd, a special North Korean envoy was in Beijing. A restart of six-party talks for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula likely featured high on the Chinese ‘this is what you will do’ list.
A more contentious second point will be the islands. They lie between Japan and the South China Sea. The issue is a centuries-old claim by China. The islands have large oil and gas reserves, bountiful fishing grounds, and straddle important shipping lanes. Many are sparsely populated or uninhabited. Beijing has been aggressive in exercising its claims most recently around the Senkaku islands. The Japanese Deputy Prime Minister’s visit in January to a shrine for war dead that includes 14 WW2 war criminals and the recent outburst by Osaka’s Mayor in support of the need for ‘comfort women’ for Japanese WW2 troops have not helped de-escalation efforts. The outcome has been for Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei to lean into the American camp, a reverse of Chinese hopes for greater positive regional influence. What is important is that the islands are not for the US to give away. America’s stake is regional stability and various treaties to protect Asian countries, especially Japan.
A Chinese third point will likely be a ‘mind the gap’ proposal which would clarify the purpose of building up to six aircraft carriers. The ‘160 degree longitude’ proposal would see US aircraft carriers staying in the eastern Pacific with China’s staying in the western half. The chances of this being accepted by the US are less than the Blue Jays’ chance of winning this year’s World Series. Chinese offers presented to Defense Secretary Panetta concerning the Ryukyu Islands (Japan to Taiwan) to compensate the US for WW2 sacrifices capturing them; continued use of US military bases in Okinawa; and 'one country, two systems' policy plus free trade status will not likely receive US traction.
President Obama’s hit list will probably be topped by cyber. A massive May 28th Chinese attack targeted advanced US defence systems. Captured details are reported to include the Patriot missile system. Not only does the leak make those front line assets vulnerable, it allows China to save countless billions in developing their own capabilities. A recently introduced Chinese stealth combat jet has a remarkable similarity to the US F-35 fifth generation fighter.
And finally, no two-leader summit could pass discussing global economic issues including bilateral trade, currency exchange, and product dumping allegations.
This is a first meeting of two very powerful men. Both have immense challenges at home. Arguably, Xi Jinping’s are greater. Staggering pollution, a slowing GDP growth, and a continuous 20 million person per year migration from rural to urban areas is putting great strain on the Chinese Communist Party’s credibility. Demonstrations are increasing in number and violence. One hopes that, in reacting to an increasingly negative domestic scene, Beijing doesn’t launch a re-enactment of the 1997 movie ‘Wag the Dog’ with some foreign military adventure.