On the eve of the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping; the Chinese delegation are bound to carry a long list of grievances against the US, but none stands out more starkly than the alleged widespread belief within Chinese governmental and society at large that US intentions were perverse and that its objective was to abort China’s rise, so as to prevent it from becoming a rich and a powerful first class world power. This effort was entirely due to the US desire to maintain its hegemony and global dominance. Chinese cynicism about US intentions has not abated since the assumption of power by President Trump, but has only exacerbated due to Trump’s inconsistent pronouncements, his blistering Twitter handouts and some of his bizarre pronouncements during the election campaign that seem to accompany him to the White House.
The Chinese belief is that the main objective of the US was to overthrow the Chinese social system and the rule of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], so that China would once again become faction ridden, its society divided and thereby would be unable to continue down the path of rapid development and thus present no challenge to the US. The main instrument that the US was using was the issue of Human Rights in China, so as to create disorder and chaos and malign China’s image before the world. The US strategy of subverting rivals and bringing states under its domination, in Chinese eyes, had a proven record of success. The Chinese often cite as examples the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “colour” revolutions of post Soviet Central Asia and the Arab Spring. The Chinese authorities are extremely suspicious and sensitive of the activities of several western sponsored NGOs, who they feel are only to happy to promote western “values” that undermine the cohesiveness of Chinese society.
This sinister and cynical view of US policies may not be entirely without foundation. While the US has sought co-operation from China in areas of common interests in order to build a long term, stable and an amicable relationship; yet the US has tried to nudge China towards political liberalisation and ultimately a basic political change. Of course, this was couched in language to make China a “responsible stakeholder” and that the US was not intending to “weaken” China, but to make its government more responsible and accountable to its people. The US also tied to sell the idea that “relationships built on shared interests and shared values [emphasis added] are far more long lasting than those built on a coincidence of interests. Nevertheless while the US leadership continues to say that it welcomes China as a “prosperous and a successful” power, yet they also continue to seek “strategic reassurance” from China. In other words, largely maintain the status quo.
What has added to Chinese perceptions about the malign intentions of the US, is the insistent belief that exists within Chinese society that China is intrinsically a peaceful, defence oriented and ethically minded state. The US in particular and the western powers are seen as intrinsically aggressive, militaristic and commercially selfish. Therefore since China cannot by its very cultural self perception give offence; conflicts with the US must therefore arise only as a consequence of US aggressiveness. While these perceptions may be very Confucian in thought, yet lingering Marxist thought also leads to the conclusion that the US is trying for world domination and that only China stands in its way.
Most Chinese are convinced that liberal democracy would not work for them. They saw that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the western powers did not come to the assistance of the new Russia, but tried to curtail its power and damage its economy. Even where discontent exists in China, it does not get translated into a desire for a regime change. Take for example the year 2012. There were reportedly about 150,000 protests regarding state seizure of property, police brutality, environmental degradation, wage and pension disputes and official corruption, but the anger underlying these disputes did not translate into a demand for a regime change. Nonetheless, the CCP leaders seem transfixed that this might lead to a popular uprising against them. The CCP leadership is conscious that the ultimate arbiter of their fate remains the PLA and therefore nothing is done to undermine its credibility as a formidable fighting force. The PLA’s views are listened to as one of the determining factors when eventual policy formulations are made. Doubtless when Xi Jinping visits Trump, the PLA’s inputs would be decisive. The CCP leadership also knows that the only state capable of interfering in its internal affairs to cause significant disaffection is the US. The whole internal security apparatus in China seems designed to prevent such a happening.
The main Chinese objective in the forthcoming talks would be to establish a kind of “parity” with the US, as also to seek “assurances” that the Trump Administration would not try to subvert their system, or to move away from the established policy of “One China”. In order to achieve these goals the Chinese leadership had earlier conceptualised its ideas in an article entitled “Innovations in China’s Diplomatic Theory and Practice Under New Conditions” that was published as a signed article in Qiushi [Seeking Truth]. The main points were [a] A policy of non-conflict and non-confrontation. This policy requires the two sides to view each other’s strategic intentions in an objective and sensible way [b] Mutual respect. This requires the two sides to respect each other's choice of social system and development path, respect each other’s “core” interests and major concerns and [c] Win-Win cooperation.
Of particular interest is the fact that Trump already seems to have conceded on Taiwan by reiterating the “One China” policy. The fact is that on Tibet the US clearly recognises Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic and ever since the Nixon visit in 1972 has shown no inclination to meddle in Tibet.The Chinese are aware and know this. It would be interesting to watch what the Chinese have in mind. By introducing Tibet as a “core” issue are the Chinese trying to extend the concept to mean a joint Sino-US co-operative effort for South Asia as also for the Af-Pak region? The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley’s recent remark about the US playing a role to “de-escalate” Indo-Pak tensions, is a clear pointer that South Asia may also figure in the Trump-Xi Summit. The US too would have its own list of issues, not the least the North Korean nuclear issue which would probably be top of the agenda.
The Chinese are also very wary of the demands that Trump might raise on economic issues. The huge US trade deficit, alleged Chinese currency manipulation, IPR and the bilateral Investment Treaty all are likely to be the focus of intense bargaining. No wonder this Summit has been dubbed as a transactional Summit.
As US press reports indicate the Chinese have been quick off their feet. The help received from Henry Kissinger has been invaluable. It was Kissinger who on a recent visit to Beijing help set-up the “special” Chinese link with the White House, by bye-passing all other departments of state. The fact that Trump chose his son-in -law, Jared Kushner to head the White House end of the link, shows the importance of the Sino-US relationship. There is no doubt that both sides are approaching the Summit with extreme care and by the indications available it promises to be a very transactional. Let us wait and see.