Desperate for a diplomatic breakthrough in the face of a troubled domestic situation, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga achieved his goal of becoming the first foreign leader to be hosted by new US President Joe Biden at the White House. The two sides launched “a CoRe partnership” according to a joint statement, showing the world how close the two countries are and what issues they will work together on.
In a series of pivotal geopolitical topics, Suga gained endorsement from the Biden administration. The two leaders pointed fingers at China’s internal affairs by referring to the “importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits,” the first such reference to the island of Taiwan in a joint statement by leaders of the US and Japan since 1969.
However, it is noticeable that the Suga administration seemed to want to distance itself from the US, with subtle divergences manifested on issues related to China that are not so close to Japan’s own interests.
The Chinese foreign ministry hit back at the joint statement, vowing to take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development rights. Chinese Vice Minister Le Yucheng also rebuked the misunderstandings and accusations on China about issues related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and expounded the country’s core stances on the Taiwan question in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday.
Le stated: “No country is superior to others and in the position to act in a domineering way. China views all other countries as equals and we don’t look up or down on others. We view others on an equal footing.” Chinese experts stressed that it is time for the US to view China on an equal footing and realize that China could be its partner in various fields instead of an enemy.
Calls for China-US relations to get back on track have been getting louder among scholars and diplomats from both China and the US. Especially as this year marks the 50th anniversary of Ping-Pong diplomacy, many expect signs of whether something similar to Ping-Pong diplomacy could be found to break the ice for the world’s most important bilateral relations, and the commitment to work together on the climate crisis may be one sign.
All for itself
One of the greatest breakthroughs for Suga’s visit was to reach a consensus with the US on launching a new competitiveness and resilience (CoRe) partnership based on their “shared security and prosperity.” Biden and Suga demonstrated their “intimacy” at the press conference with video online showing Biden patted Suga’s back softly after the conference was over.
China obviously topped the agenda at their meeting. In the statement, Biden reiterated opposition to China’s “unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea” and stressed serious concerns regarding the human rights situations in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Japan is facing great pressure from its neighbors in the region, including China, South Korea and Russia, for its decision to dump radioactive wastewater from Fukushima power plant into the Pacific Ocean. The US, by tolerating Japan’s irresponsible act, could effectively force Japan to serve the US’ hegemonic strategy, Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday. “Washington is happy to see Tokyo isolated in Asia, as Japan will have no choice but to stand closer with the US to offend China.”
The reference to Taiwan in the joint statement echoed comments in a statement by US and Japanese defense and foreign ministers last month.
“The US and Japan have their own plans. The US fears that after China resolves the Taiwan question, it may lose an important link in what it calls its alliance system to contain China. As the US is feeling increasingly powerless in the face of China’s rise, it hopes Japan will join hands with it in dealing with China,” Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Sunday.
China is Japan’s biggest trading partner. Although Japan worries that moving too close to the US could hurt economic ties with China, it is also nervous over the Taiwan Straits and the Diaoyu Islands, Wang said. “Japan is clear that its strategic sea lanes would be blocked by a fully unified China, and Japan needs to rely on the US to pressure China to assuage its anxieties.”
Wang slammed Japan for willingly stooping to act as a strategic vassal of the US, inviting the wolf into the house, and betraying the collective interests of the whole region.
Ties on an equal footing
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le said in the AP interview that “mutual respect and treating each other as equals are very important. In the big family of nations, all countries stand as equals. No country is superior to others and in the position to act in a domineering way.”
Wang stressed that the US should not mistake teammate as adversary as COVID-19 response and economic recovery are the two areas where China-US cooperation could be critically important.
Since the Biden administration took office, there have been some positive interactions between China and the US. Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden talked on the phone and exchanged New Year greetings on the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. They also had a long discussion on bilateral relations, which has pointed the way forward.
Last month, the two countries had a high-level dialogue in Anchorage, Alaska. Although the opening remarks were a little bit unusual, the dialogue was constructive and useful on the whole. The teams on both sides are now actively working on the follow-ups to the dialogue.
“All this tells us that for China and the US, dialogue is better than confrontation. Dialogue can enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust, and pave the way for cooperation. Without dialogue, things can’t get started,” Le said.
China and the US are cooperating on some specific issues. China has provided favorable COVID-19 vaccination arrangements for each other’s diplomats. China and the US issued a joint statement on Sunday, committing to working together on the issue of climate change and will cooperate on multilateral fronts including the Paris Agreement.
Some voices in the US have been agitating for competition and confrontation while playing down cooperation which had pushed the relationship to a negative, adversarial track. The US should abandon its superiority complex of always seeing itself as the world’s dominator and finding a scapegoat to cover its incapability, Wang said.
However, some analysts said the US behavior at the moment to keep interfering in China’s internal affairs and trying to rope in its allies to join this interference shows that the US has never believed that China-US relations are equal or that it should respect China’s core interests and concerns.
Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said that through exchanges with some US strategists in the past, “we have learnt that in the hegemonic logic of the US, asking for equality from the US is not only seen as a mistake, but also a crime.”
The only way forward is for China to prove it is unbreakable and undefeatable, and then force the US to accept a real equal and peaceful coexistence, he told the Global Times on Sunday.