China and the United States The Threats to American Hegemony

At a recent high level meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chinese Politburo Member and Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe gives us an interesting insight into the minds of China in this time of growing military and economic stresses between the United States and the world’s most populous and second-largest economy.

Let’s open by looking at what Mike Pompeo and James Mattis had to say before we look at China’s responses.  Let’s start with some excerpts from Mike Pompeo’s remarks on key issues:

As President Trump has made clear, the United States seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China grounded in fairness, reciprocity, and respect. Personal relationships of trust and candor will go a long way in achieving these ends.

Even as our countries confront important differences in the bilateral relationship between the nations, our cooperation remains essential on many, many central issues. For example, I expressed in our meeting today the importance of remaining united in the pursuit of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to be Chairman Kim in Singapore. This means maintaining pressure through the continued strict enforcement of all UN Security Council resolutions.

I also expressed our desire to see further cooperation from China in addressing Iran’s nuclear missile programs and other malign activities. We hope to work with the Chinese Government and Chinese energy companies in this regard. Bringing Iran’s oil export revenues to zero is a critical component of this campaign, and we discussed this today.

In addition to these opportunities to strengthen our cooperation, I was forthright in addressing significant differences between our nations.

I was clear, for example, that we have continued concern about China’s activities and militarization in the South China Sea. We pressed China to live up to its past commitments in this area.

Regarding our strong ties with a democratic Taiwan, I reiterated the U.S. policy has not changed and that we are concerned about China’s increasing efforts to coerce others, constraining Taiwan’s international space. 

In closing, I want to state that this was an incredibly productive conversation. The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with China.

Rather, we want to ensure that China acts responsibly and fairly in support of security and prosperity of each of our two countries.” (my bolds)

Here are a selection of comments from James Mattis:

High-level dialogues like this help diminish the space between us as we explore areas where we share common interest and common purpose. To that end, as Secretary Pompeo stated, today we discussed our shared desire to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea. We reaffirmed our nation’s commitments to enforcing the unanimous Security Council resolutions in pursuit of that goal for the good of all mankind.

As the Secretary of State touched on, we also discussed the importance for all military, law enforcement, and civilian vessels and aircraft, including those in the PLA Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard, and the PRC Maritime Militia, to operate in a safe and professional manner, in accordance with international law, as we seek peaceful resolution of all disputes in the South China Sea. Through candid discussions, we sought ways to lessen tension, maintain open lines of communication between our militaries, and reduce the risk of miscalculation. And we made clear that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

The U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is underpinned by the rules-based international order and regional stability, is unwavering.  Director Yang, Minister Wei, within our pursuit to realize this vision for the region, I echo Secretary of State Pompeo’s words that the United States seeks a constructive, reciprocal, and results-oriented U.S.-China relationship, one that benefits the Indo-Pacific and the world.” (my bolds)

Here are excerpts from the response by Politburo Member Yang:

“We elaborate on our respective strategic intentions and domestic and foreign policies. The Chinese side stresses that China is firm on pursuing socialist – socialism with Chinese characteristics. Everything that we do is to deliver a better life for the Chinese people, to realize rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. It is not intended to challenge or displease anyone. China will stay on the course of reform and opening up and a path of peaceful development. And we are committed to working with other countries for a community with a shared future for mankind.

China will remain a contributor to world peace and global development, as well as a defender of the international order. China has all along committed itself to working with the United States for non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect, and win-win outcome, and to make positive contribution to peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia Pacific and beyond.

The Chinese side highlights that China is firmly resolved to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The “one China” principle is the political foundation for China-U.S. relations. Taiwan independent forces and their separatist activities pose the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. should recognize it clearly. We urge the United States to abide by the “one China” principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiques and cautiously handle Taiwan-related matters.

The Chinese side also stressed that proper handling of the Middle East situation, in particular matters related to Iran, is very important. About the deal on Iran, it needs to be continued to be implemented and observed to – and the two sides should make – contribute – make continued contribution to peace and stability of the region.

The Chinese side is committed to peace and development in the Asia Pacific. We respect the United States interest in the Asia Pacific. At the same time, we expect the United States to respect China’s security interests in the Asia Pacific, China’s sovereignty and development interests. China has undertaken some constructions on its islands and reefs. Most of them are civilian facilities. The purpose is to serve the interest of the Chinese people and also to provide public goods to others.

At the same time, it is necessary for China to build certain security facilities in response to possible threats from outside.  We believe that no country should use any excuse to engage in militarization in the region. Actually, to pursue militarization in the region will not only undermine interest of regional countries, but will hurt the countries who take these actions themselves. There’s no such a problem of the freedom of navigation and overflight being obstructed, so to use the freedom of navigation and overflight as an excuse to pursue military actions is unjustifiable.

The two sides discussed in an in-depth manner the Korean Peninsula issue. China reaffirmed its position and commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, and a solution through consultation and negotiation. China will continue to enforce strictly relevant UN Security Council resolutions. China supports direct dialogue between the United States and the DPRK and hopes that the two sides will meet each other halfway, accommodate each other’s legitimate concerns, build trust, and advance denuclearization process and the establishment of a peace mechanism in tandem.” (my bolds)

Finally, here are excerpts from the response by State Councillor Wei:

“Just now, the two sides had candid and in-depth discussion on how to follow up on the important common understanding reached between our two presidents. I think this is a productive and positive dialogue. The two sides share the view that the two sides need to further step up strategic trust, properly handle differences, promote exchanges and cooperation, so that this military relationship will be a source of stability for the overall bilateral ties.

As two major countries, we stand to gain from cooperation and to lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only option for us. Peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the two militaries will be good news for our two countries and for the whole world, while confrontation or conflict between the two militaries will spell disaster to all.

China is committed to peaceful development. It follows a defense policy that is defensive in nature. We will definitely not seek hegemony however strong we may grow. The development of China’s defense capability represents a growing force for world peace.The Chinese military stands firmly against any separatist activities. We have an unwavering resolve in safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests.” (my bold)

During the question and answer session, James Mattis made this statement when directly asked about American operations in the South China Sea:

“In regards to our exercises and operations in the South China Sea, the United States adheres strictly to international law and the international maritime rules of the road, and we continue to operate anywhere in international waters, international air space, as all nations are entitled to. So the most important thing is that we all pay equal attention to international law.”

Here is the response from Politburo Member Yang:

In our discussion just now, the Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and security interest. And we urge the United States to play constructive role for peace and stability in the South China Sea. That will certainly help reduce security risks.

Mike Pompeo made this statement when directly asked about Taiwan:

“The U.S. policy has not changed since this administration took office with respect to Taiwan; we honor the “one China” policy and the three communiques. Every action that we have taken is consistent with that, and we will continue to take actions that are consistent with honoring that commitment that is a longstanding United States commitment.

Here is the response from Politburo Member Yang:

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory. On the basis of the “one China” principle. China has established diplomatic relations with over 170 countries. We will continue to remain committed to the “one China” principle that bears on China’s sovereignty and dignity, its security and territorial integrity.

Despite the outside appearance of diplomacy between the United States and China, it certainly appears that the two nations are worlds apart when it comes to two issues that are key to China’s leadership; the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Given that, according to the International Monetary Fund, this is likely to occur:

…and that this has already happened:

…it is pretty clear that China is the one nation that threatens America’s hegemony and is most likely to inherit the reins of a post-American world, rules-based international order be damned.

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