Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe will be in Washington this week to meet with US Defence Secretary James Mattis. What are they likely to discuss – or …, what does Wei want?
The two have since met on Oct 18 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore, but no agreements have been announced. Mattis continues to reassure the public by saying their “strategic competition does not imply hostility”, but he also added, “We will not surrender freedom of navigation”. This indicates that the US will not back off from its approach to China’s claims in the South China Sea.
Following a near collision between the USS Decatur and a Chinese warship, the U.S. Navy is considering a major show of force over several days in the Taiwan Strait, apparently an implementation of a more aggressive US policy towards China in the South China Sea. The first indication of this new policy surfaced on May 3 when the White House announced that there would be “near-term and long-term consequences” for China’s “militarisation” there.
The Pentagon then rescinded its invitation to China to participate in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific exercises because “China’s behaviour [in the South China Sea] is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the [Rimpac] exercise”.
In June, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Mattis warned China that the rescinding of the invitation was a “relatively small consequence” and that “there are much larger consequences in the future.” On October 4, US Vice-President Mike Pence gave speech criticising China across the board and highlighting the USS Decatur incident. The US has stepped up its nuclear-capable B-52 flights over the East and South China seas.
“I will tell you that we are committed to cooperating with China, with Russia, where we can,” Mattis said on Saturday.
“But we will not surrender freedom of navigation. We will not surrender international law.”
In September, China cancelled a meeting between its naval chief and his American counterpart in the US and postponed a planned military dialogue between Mattis and Wei. China also refused permission for a US navy warship to make a port call.
Military-to-military relations are perhaps the most significant dimension of US-China relations because they can be a stabilising force when relations in other spheres break down.
Randall Schriver, a top Pentagon official for Asia, says such “high level talks are especially valuable during times of tension”, noting that in June President Xi Jinping called the US-China military relationship the “model component of our overall bilateral relations.”
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“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission … and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” Xi said. “We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.
Unease rattles China’s invincible facade, Washington Post, Aug 3, 2018
In China, there is an overwhelming feeling of unease — about the economy and the political system, relations with the United States and the future of China’s opening to the West, which over the past 40 years has brought China so much success, wealth and happiness. This malaise is emerging against a backdrop of a slowing economy, a scandal affectinghundreds of thousands of children’s vaccines, the continued challenges of cleaning China’s air and water and providing food safety, and an aging population.
In a remarkable essay called “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes,” published late last month, the constitutional scholar Xu Zhangrun of Tsinghua University captured the feelings of many Chinese people when he questioned whether China’s reforms and opening up policies “are being terminated and whether totalitarian rule will return.”
Deng Xiaoping’s son urges China to not be “overbearing.”
An influential son of Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader who steered the country towards decades of economic growth, urged his government to “keep a sober mind” and “know its place”, delivering a counterpoint to Beijing’s increasingly ambitious foreign policy and military assertiveness.
“We must seek truth from fact, keep a sober mind and know our own place,” Deng Pufang, the eldest son of Deng Xiaoping, said in a recent speech that was not made public but was obtained by the South China Morning Post. “We should neither be overbearing or belittle ourselves.”
Speaking of decades of market reforms introduced by his father starting in the late 1970s, the younger Deng said the changes were “irreversible”.
He went on to say that China should remain on the same path for a century and not go backward.
“We should … continue down this path … bite the bullet, make no regression and remain unwavering for a hundred years,” he said.
There has been a growing debate about Beijing’s commitment to these reforms. In a much-discussed speech three weeks ago, US Vice-President Mike Pence said Beijing only “pays lip service to ‘reform and opening”, while Deng Xiaoping’s famous policy “rings hollow”.
Xi Jinping’s awkward relationship with Deng Xiaoping – Two tricky 40th anniversaries test China’s leader