U.S. President Donald Trump has held talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing following his summit meetings with the leaders of Japan and South Korea. Trump and Xi agreed that the two countries would cooperate on efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and make sure that a U.N. Security Council resolution is implemented.
Though there are subtle differences between the two leaders’ views, Trump and Xi essentially share the view that North Korea’s nuclear arms development poses a threat to regional stability. Therefore, Pyongyang should take this confluence of U.S.-Chinese opinion seriously, while Washington and Beijing have a responsibility to continue cooperating to avoid a crisis.
Trump is the first foreign leader that Xi has met since he was reappointed as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at its latest congress. Xi showed Trump special hospitality by guiding him through the Forbidden City in Beijing and dining with him, demonstrating to the world that the two countries are on friendly terms.
Relations between the United States and China, the world’s largest and second largest economies, are important. However, on the one hand, U.S. influence has declined in the wake of the Trump administration’s inauguration due to its pursuit of an “America First” agenda, while on the other hand, China has failed to gain the international community’s confidence despite its increasing economic and military clout.
China’s international reputation depends on how much of a leading role it can play in avoiding a North Korean crisis. China led the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program from 2003 to 2008, but failed to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear development. It is true that China’s influence on North Korea has its limits. However, China is vital to North Korea’s survival, as the secluded state relies on Beijing for oil and other resources.
Trump and Xi agreed not to repeat past mistakes, but Xi stopped short of new countermeasures against North Korea’s provocations, such as stepping up sanctions on the country. Trump has displayed dissatisfaction with the Chinese president’s efforts, saying that the problem would promptly be resolved if Xi tried.
President Trump is aiming to make peace by force, and has not ruled out military action against North Korea. Nevertheless, there are no signs that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program.
China has voiced stiff opposition to any move that could lead to war or chaos on the Korean Peninsula. Now is the time for Beijing to join hands with Washington on crisis management. Avoiding a crisis on the Korean Peninsula is in their common interest.
President Xi has gained authority said to be equivalent to that held by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi has declared his intention to build “a new type of international relations” and construct a “community of common destiny for mankind.” However, the specific direction of these policies remains unclear.
Concerns persist that China will press forward with its great power diplomacy, including maritime assertiveness exemplified by its construction of manmade islands in the South China Sea. China’s response to North Korea is a litmus test for the prospects of Xi’s kind of diplomacy. The Xi government should shift toward a policy to promote international cooperation.
The United States clinched $250 billion in business deals with China, including on aircraft, energy and automobiles, to alleviate Washington’s dissatisfaction with its trade deficit with Beijing, which Trump has described as “unfair.”
Though the total dollar figure is huge, the deals were nothing but a stopgap diplomatic performance. Such major powers as the U.S. and China should cooperate in creating common trade rules that also benefit other countries.
At the latest Chinese Communist Party convention, Xi unveiled a plan to make China a “great modern socialist country” by the mid-21st century. Under the plan, China will aim to be a superpower surpassing even the U.S., while maintaining CPC rule.
Xenophobia and protectionism are rising in the West, shaking confidence in democratic systems. There are reportedly some developing countries that regard China, which has built expressways and high-speed rail networks throughout the country in a short time, as a model for growth.
China’s growth itself contributes to the growth of the region as well as that of the entire world. However, unless Beijing shares common values such as respect for human rights and democracy with other countries, international wariness of China’s rise will not be easily dispelled.
It is regrettable that American ideals have disappeared from U.S. diplomacy under Trump. Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning pro-democracy activist, died in July after Chinese authorities refused to allow him to receive cancer treatment overseas, but Trump did not speak about the importance of human rights during the latest summit.
Trump said he would not criticize China, but it is the responsibility of the world’s leading superpower to frankly point out other countries’ problems if and when necessary.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with Trump to cooperate toward a “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy.” Therefore, Abe should advise Trump of the necessity for the United States to preach the importance of freedom and other values.
In the meantime, the fact that relations between Japanese and Chinese leaders are more distant than those between U.S. and Chinese leaders has narrowed the range of diplomatic options for Japan. Japanese and Chinese leaders should bolster moves toward improving bilateral relations when they meet in Vietnam in the coming days.