Strategic Mistrust Deepens Between China And The US

By Wei Pu
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (C front) greets military officers at a meeting in Beijing, Jan. 29, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (C front) greets military officers at a meeting in Beijing, Jan. 29, 2015.

Relations between China and the United States took a turn for the worse this year. In a climate of mutual suspicion and doubt, the two countries are now in danger of entering a phase of mutual strategic suspicion, a state of affairs that looks unlikely to be eased by ... President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States.

And there are signs that the major issues in the China-U.S. relationship will ensure that the mutual mistrust continues.

These issues include Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. targets, China's island-building in the South China Sea, and Chinese technological requirements for U.S. companies doing business there, as well as China's human rights record and so on.

As far as the cyberattacks are concerned, President Obama, who has usually taken a softer approach to China, has issued stern warnings that Chinese cyberattacks are unacceptable, and has demanded that China cease all cyber espionage activities, or the U.S. will take action.

For its part, China has repeatedly denied any involvement in cyberattacks. A former Singapore foreign ministry official told me that China will continue its cyberattacks on U.S. targets, because Xi Jinping has no reason at all to stop.

On the matter of the island-building in the South China Sea, the U.S. has repeatedly and solemnly called on China to stop its construction activities, but China maintains that it has sovereignty over 80 percent of the waters of the South China Sea.

China's construction of islands ... isn't just contributing to regional tensions by making its neighbors nervous; it constitutes a direct threat to any U.S. naval presence in the South China Sea.

Hard-line attitude

But Xi Jinping has made no concessions in the face of U.S. demands, and it doesn't look as if he will in future, either.

Xi Jinping has also taken a hard-line attitude to the question of U.S. companies doing business in China.

According to a report from Chris Buckley of The New York Times, internal problems and external interference don't preclude a successful Xi visit to the U.S., adding that when U.S. officials expressed their unhappiness over new national security legislation at a closed-doors meeting between Xi Jinping and U.S. business leaders in Beijing last week, Xi stuck to his guns, saying that these laws were totally necessary.

So, the Chinese government will require U.S. companies entering the China market to hand over large amounts of data and intellectual property rights.

Human rights is an issue that Xi Jinping won't be able to skirt around on his trip to America. Guo Yushan may have been recently released, but there has been no sign of any let-up from Xi in the cases of [jailed Nobel peace laureate] Liu Xiaobo, [veteran journalist] Gao Yu or [human rights lawyer] Pu Zhiqiang, who has yet to be sentenced.

And there seems to be no end in sight to the large-scale persecution of lawyers.


The recent military parade held by the Chinese government will further intensify the strategic mistrust between the two sides.

Not only was the parade a way for China to flex its military muscle, it also rattled more sabers by sending a number of its warships close to Alaska, where Obama was visiting at the time, to discuss global warming, completing the sense of military threat and ruffling the feathers of the U.S. military.

It is likely that the deepening of mistrust between the U.S. and China has much to do with Xi Jinping's personal style.

Xi seems far more interested in friction, competition, and confrontation than he does in compromise, consultation, or cooperation.

But putting such a personality in charge of Sino-U.S. relations seems a bit of a gamble, as indeed this U.S. visit is a gamble.

It looks as if Xi has no plans to reach a state of mutual understanding and trust with the U.S. on issues of any strategic importance.

That's why the culmination of his trip is the United Nations.

What's next?

A weakening economy and dissenting voices within the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party over the anti-corruption campaign mean that Xi Jinping will be unwilling to make any concessions as a result of U.S. pressure.

He will keep up his hard-line stance the whole way.

So what's next for China-U.S. ties? An article by ... George Soros has been making the rounds on the Chinese Internet lately.

In it, he says that if the China-U.S. relationship isn't properly handled, it could result in military confrontation, and that it would be no exaggeration to say that we might stand on the brink of World War III.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Wei Pu is a U.S.-based economist and a regular contributor to RFA's Cantonese Service.

Comments (3)


from San Diego

Xi is too overconfidence and it won't be a WWIII! Its a war between china against its neighbors and US and I am assure you it will be over very quickly and china will break up into 5 to 7 states!

Oct 07, 2015 05:43 PM

BG Davis

"Xi seems far more interested in friction, competition, and confrontation than he does in compromise, consultation, or cooperation."
He may be a closet member of the US Republican Party--he meets the requirements.

Oct 05, 2015 05:21 PM

Anonymous Reader

The Communist Chinese are not to be trusted. They say one thing but act the opposite. They say their rise is peaceful but yet, they are building islands in the South China Sea. Claiming 80% territory belonged to them. Says who? Countries around that region, who also has claim, didn't agree to China claimed. The Communist boldly display its arrogant does not bode well in the eye of international community. It means if the Communist unseated the U.S as superpower, the whole is in trouble. This is what George Soros was saying, the Communist China can not and could not unseat U.S peacefully. It has to do it militarily, there is no other way.

Sep 27, 2015 11:59 AM

BG Davis

" Communist China can not and could not unseat U.S peacefully. It has to do it militarily"
Not at all. Once the US has exported enough of its jobs to China, the PRC will be on top.

Oct 05, 2015 05:23 PM





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