Beijing: Forty years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, the relationship between the two may have reached a turning point.
As the ambitions of the superpowers increasingly conflict with the ambitions of existing countries, tensions have risen to new heights on a road that has always been rocky. China ordered the closure of the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu on Friday in order to quickly retaliate by closing the consulate in Houston.
Two weeks ago, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked loudly whether the relations between the two countries can be maintained. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an answer on Thursday: The time has come to change course.
In his speech at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Southern California, he said: “The old paradigm of blind interaction with China cannot be solved at all.” “We must not continue. We must not return to it.”
Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 was the first visit to China by a US president since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. This subverted the Cold War paradigm and paved the way for the normalization of relations in 1979.
In World War II, the United States was a close ally of the then Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. After Chiang Kai-shek lost control of the mainland and fled there in 1949, Taiwan recognized Taiwan as the Chinese government for thirty years.
The relationship between Washington and the communist government in Beijing began to thaw in the 1970s, as China’s relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated and leader Mao Zedong sought to balance with his stronger neighbors.
After the establishment of diplomatic relations, the new leader Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in 1979 and smiled while wearing a cowboy hat in Texas to try on a photo. The Houston Consulate closed later in the same year. This is China’s first in the United States.
Regardless of political differences, China and the United States have promoted economic, social and cultural ties. Ten years later, US-China relations were temporarily suspended due to China’s military suppression of the democratic demonstrations held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
In the next few years, economic ties increased exponentially, American companies made huge investments in China, and the resulting Chinese trade surplus reached 350 billion US dollars a year.
The tension interrupted the relationship. The United States continued to support Taiwan militarily. The Clinton administration sent an aircraft carrier across the Taiwan Strait in 1996 after China launched missiles to Taiwan.
In 2001, a Chinese fighter plane collided with a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea, which is an important transportation channel in the Asia-Pacific region. After the plane made an emergency landing at a Chinese base, China detained the American crew for several days.
As China has grown to become the world’s second largest economy after the United States, China has become increasingly regarded as a competitor economically and militarily, and a potential challenger to dominate the Western-dominant democratic model after World War II.
The politics of the US election year is adding fuel to the fire, because President Donald Trump seems to be using friction with China to win the support of his supporters. Whether or not he is re-elected in November, there will be fundamental differences.
Steve Zeng, director of the Institute of Chinese Studies at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, said: “We are considering the structural changes in this relationship and will continue even if Trump is not re-elected.”
In the military, American and Chinese warships often compete for positions in the South China Sea. Economically, the United States is relying on its allies to exclude China’s telecommunications leader Huawei from their mobile networks, which adds to the hidden dangers of network security. In terms of human rights, the United States is imposing sanctions on China’s policies in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.
Tsang Yinquan said that the United States’ hardline stance on China has now “infiltrated the system.”
Pompeo’s speech is the latest in a series of sharp criticisms against China by US cabinet officials, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Attorney General Bill Barr.
Although Trump earlier exaggerated his friendly relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, exchanges between the two sides have dropped to a new low.
“The kind of engagement we have been pursuing has not brought the kind of change in China that President Nixon hoped to induce,” Pompeo said. “The truth is that our policies – and those of other free nations – resurrected China’s failing economy, only to see Beijing bite the international hands that fed it.”
Chu Yin, a professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said Americans who advocated engagement are disappointed that China’s economic growth and the emergence of a middle class has enhanced the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party rather than sparking democratic change.
Trump’s domestic political strategy has added some explosive elements to the structural problems in the relationship, he said.
“China will not take Pompeo’s speech seriously. It is the last cry of a lame duck,” Chu said. “China wants to have dialogue with a U.S. politician who is more commensurate with the status of a major country.”
He declined to forecast the future, saying: “Let us be more patient at this turbulent time.”