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US, China Defense Chiefs Discuss Escalating Risks Over Taiwan and South China Sea, China Has No Plans to Unseat the World Superpower

August 7, 2020



Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, left, greets US Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Bangkok, Thailand, in November 2019



China, US defence chiefs discuss escalating risks over Taiwan, South China Sea

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper expresses concern over ‘destabilising activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea’, says Pentagon spokesman Esper also called on Beijing to share more of its data on Covid-19, adds the spokesman

By Robert Delaney

SCMP, 5:58am, 7 Aug, 2020

China’s Defence Minister, Wei Fenghe, and his US counterpart, Mark Esper, warned each other in a phone call about escalating risks over Taiwan and the South China Sea, in the highest-level US-China talks since state leader Yang Jiechi  met  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hawaii in mid-June.

Esper “expressed concerns about [the Chinese military’s] destabilizing activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on [China] to honor international obligations” as well as share more of its data on Covid-19, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

“There are obligations that the Chinese government is under responsibility for with regard to the [World Health Organization] agreements, so they have a have a need to provide samples to provide data,” Hoffman said. “That didn’t happen and we expect them to to continue to improve their information sharing in regard of that.”

The US defense secretary also “affirmed the principles and importance of constructive, stable and result-oriented defense relationship between the United States” and the People’s Liberation Army, Hoffman said, adding that the call lasted about 90 minutes.

Chinese air force troops carry out air defense drill over the South China Sea

Chinese air force troops carry out air defense drill over the South China Sea

Meanwhile, China’s state news agency Xinhua confirmed that Taiwan and the South China Sea were on the agenda, and that Wei also warned Esper against “dangerous moves” that would escalate bilateral tensions.

Wei also laid out for Esper the Chinese government’s position on Washington’s “stigmatisation” of China, according to Xinhua, which said that the US side requested the call.

The US Defense Department did not respond to a query about whether the Pentagon asked for the call.

Wei “expressed China’s principled position on the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the US's ‘stigmatisation’ of China, asking the US to stop its wrong words and deeds, strengthen maritime risk management and control, avoid dangerous actions that may heat up the situation, and maintain regional peace and stability”, Xinhua said.

On July 13, Pompeo said that the US  rejects all Chinese claims  beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial area around the Spratly Islands, a statement that added further strains on a bilateral relationship that was already weighed down by a trade war and the US government’s moves to revoke Hong Kong’s status as being distinct from China.

The South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, is subject to several overlapping territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. China claims more than 80 per cent, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands.

The conflict has remained unresolved for decades, and has increasingly emerged as a flashpoint for China-US relations in Asia.

Esper said last month that he hoped to  visit China  by the end of this year to improve “crisis communications” channels.

Hoffman declined to say when Esper’s trip to China would happen.

Robert Delaney is the Post’s North America bureau chief. He spent 11 years in China as a language student and correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires and Bloomberg, and continued covering the country as a correspondent and an academic after leaving. His debut novel, The Wounded Muse, draws on actual events that played out in Beijing while he lived there.


China-US relations: Beijing lays out bottom lines, ‘has no plans to unseat superpower’

By Wendy Wu

SCMP, 11:00pm, 6 Aug, 2020 

Foreign Minister Wang Yi offers first major response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech last month describing engagement with China as a failure Beijing could be looking beyond the presidential election to the next American administration, analyst says

Wang’s remarks were Beijing’s first comprehensive response to Pompeo’s address at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library on July 23 when he took aim at the Communist Party and declared that the US’ engagement with China was a failure.

In the interview, Wang rejected Pompeo’s criticism but also warned that China-US ties were “facing the gravest challenge” in more than four decades.

He said Beijing rejected any attempt to create a new Cold War or revive McCarthyism. Instead, it stood ready to restart dialogue with Washington at all levels to ease the tensions and to “put in place a clear-cut framework” in the relationship, he said.

“Today’s China is not the former Soviet Union. We have no intention of becoming another United States. China does not export ideology and never interferes in other countries’ internal affairs,” Wang said.

In a rare move, Xinhua published the English version of the full interview on its website. Party mouthpiece People’s Daily also published the interview in full with the headline “Essential to establishing a clear framework of  Sino-US relations ”, suggesting that the text was meant to be a marker for Chinese diplomats and opinion leaders to follow. SCMP GLOBAL IMPACT NEWSLETTER Uncover the most important stories from China that affect the world By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy Beijing and Washington have engaged in a  tit-for-tat shutdown over diplomatic consulates  and cut off journalistic exchanges in recent weeks. The two countries rattled sanctions over Hong Kong and  Xinjiang  and have ratcheted up their tech war and military competition.

“Our message is quite clear: we urge the US to stop acting with arrogance and prejudice, but enter into constructive dialogue with us on an equal footing,” Wang said.

Analysts said Beijing might be looking beyond the election, sending a message to both the political elites in Washington and the rest of the world that it was a sensible actor in contentious tensions and a responsible defender of international rules.

Chen Long, a partner at independent research agency Plenum, said China was taking a long-term view, pinning the hope of de-escalation on a new US administration under the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the leader in the polls.

“Minister Wang’s remarks could be a message to Joe Biden, whose camp has built up a huge team of foreign policy and national security experts,” Chen said.

“It could also be out of consideration for a clear approach to the US as [China] is laying out the next five-year development plan and a longer-term ‘2035 vision’, the major missions for a plenary session of the Communist Party to be held in October.”

Wang’s interview covered a wide range of issues and expanded on his earlier proposal for a phased-in approach to address disputes and put relations back on track.

He underlined “clear red lines” for Beijing, insisting that the US must “abandon its fantasy of remodeling China to US needs. It must stop its meddling in China’s internal affairs, and stop its irrational cracking down on China’s legitimate rights and interests.”

“China never intends to and will never interfere in the US election and other US internal affairs,” Wang said.

He called the South China Sea “a common home for countries in the region” and said it should not become “a wrestling ground for international politics”. He also said the “zero-sum mentality” should be abandoned and the two sides should work together on pandemic prevention and economic recovery, playing responsible roles in multilateralism.

He defended China’s response to the pandemic and stressed that Hong Kong was an internal affair for China.

Beijing was not interested in a diplomatic fight but would not shy away from hitting back, he said.

Chen of Plenum, however, expected the tension to continue at least in the short term.

“On diplomatic issues we expect to hear more noises to further impair bilateral relations in the coming three months ahead of the November election,” he said.

“What matters to the relationship over the short term is whether the implementation of the phase one trade deal will continue and whether the US sanctions on banks will exceed expectations on issues around the  national security law in Hong Kong .” Hours before the release of Wang’s interview, the US announced that  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would visit Taiwan , the highest-level official visit to the island since 1979.

And soon after the release of the interview, the US State Department urged US app stores to remove “untrusted” Chinese-owned apps, including messaging platform WeChat.

The call marked an expansion of the US’ “clean network” campaign which has also targeted Chinese-owned video streaming platform TikTok.

Liu Weidong, a US-China relations specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China had been sending goodwill messages to the US administration but the White House was deliberately sharpening the conflicts in the interests of its presidential campaign.

“[Wang is also sending] a message to the US voters … that China is not responsible for derailing China-US ties,” Liu said.

“We need to keep calm and refrain from becoming too contentious or seeking reciprocity on every issue, otherwise it would impair our global image.”

Shi Yinhong, an adviser to China’s cabinet and an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, doubted whether the calls for dialogue would ease tensions.

“We cannot underestimate the US determination for full-fledged containment of China, nor can we underestimate the deterioration of the relationship,” Shi said.

But there were some areas where talks could be effective – both sides should discuss how to avoid military clashes in the South China Sea or the Taiwan issue to prevent the US from radically changing the one-China policy, he said.

“We need to figure out detailed conditions or compromises for negotiations over some key issues and stick to them with the new US administration, not just have goodwill talks with no real content,” Shi said.

Wendy Wu is a Beijing-based reporter focusing on international finance and diplomacy. Her journalism career spans a decade and she has been reporting for the Post since 2015. Wendy has a master's degree in finance from Germany's University of Freiburg.


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