06/18/2020, 00.00
CHINA - USA
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Hawaii, Beijing and Washington in talks, but conflict escalates

by Emanuele Scimia

The meeting in Hawaii between Yang Jiechi and Mike Pompeo was "constructive" for the Chinese; the US response is cold. The January trade agreement is struggling to take off and the technological war is worsening. The White House attacks Xi Jinping on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Two US aircraft carriers and a flotilla of submarines deployed in East Asia. Trump could take advantage of Xi's internal and external difficulties in the presidential campaign.

Rome (AsiaNews) -  China has termed yesterday's meeting in Hawaii between Politburo Member Yang Yechi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as "constructive." In diplomatic jargon it means that the two sides, which are engaged an all-out political and economic conflict, has not yielded any concrete results.

The cold comment from the State Department clearly testifies to this. " The Secretary stressed the need for fully-reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security, and diplomatic interactions”.

However, facts count more than official statements in the power game between a "declining" US and a "rising" China. "Phase one" of the agreement that should end the US-China tariff war, agreed in January by the Trump administration and the Chinese government, is struggling to take off. According to US data, China has so far purchased US products for US$ 10 billion. Beijing's commitment is to import US$ 200 billion worth of goods over two years.

In the war for technological supremacy, US President Donald Trump called Huawei "a danger" to national security, threatening sanctions on companies that do business with the Chinese telecommunications giant, the world leader in the development of 5G internet networks.

Yesterday, President Trump signed into law the bill that will allow Congress to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the handling of internment and re-education camps for Uyghurs, a Turkish-speaking Muslim minority mostly concentrated in Xinjiang.

At the same time, Team Telecom, a US government technical committee, said the Pacific Light Cable Network between the United States and East Asia should bypass Hong Kong. This is an underwater data cable system aimed at boosting internet services. Team Telecom's recommendation is based on national security concerns related to Chinese espionage activities, heightened by Beijing's willingness to impose a draconian security law on the former British colony.

On the military level, the power standoff between the two countries looks set to worsen. Washington accuses Beijing of exploiting the pandemic crisis to occupy other areas of the South China Sea. In recent years, China has militarized a series of islets and coral reefs in the region, provoking protests from Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

For its part, with an editorial published on June 14 on its website, the Chinese People's Liberation Army blasted the United States for deploying three aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Two of these - USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt - operate on the western side of the ocean, together with a group of fast-attack submarines. Meanwhile, US warplanes and vessels continue to fly over the China seas and the Taiwan Strait, in an evident attempt to counter Beijing's rhetoric on the possible weakening of the US military as a result of the pandemic.

In a nutshell, the Hawaii meeting says Washington and Beijing will continue to talk to each other, but both will remain in their (distant) positions. The White House is on the offensive against Xi Jinping, whose power no longer seems as monolithic as it once was. From what is emerging, the Chinese leader is challenged by Premier Li Keqiang, who advocates returning to the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin to overcome the recessive effects of Covid-19.

Internationally, the picture is no less complicated for Xi. Indian and Chinese troops have been clashing with each other for more than a month along the Himalayan border. In clashes that took place on June 15, dozens of soldiers from the two armies were killed or injured. In the South China Sea, Indonesia has sided with the countries that oppose the Chinese territorial claims, and the Philippines has renewed its military commitment with Washington, after announcing in January that it intends to cancel it to strengthen relations with China.

With Beijing finding itself besieged on several fronts for the first time since it began its global ascent, it is very likely that Trump wants to use the demonization of the Chinese giant, and decoupling from its economy, in his presidential campaign this November.

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