Tiller­son’s East Asia tour holds prom­ise

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS -

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, un­like Sec­re­tary of De­fence James Mat­tis, will visit China as well as Ja­pan and the Repub­lic of Korea dur­ing his tour of East Asia fromWed­nes­day.

And since Tiller­son’ tour kicks off at a time when China and the US are work­ing closely on a pos­si­ble meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, his visit has drawn much at­ten­tion.

TheUS me­dia have re­ported the two lead­ers are likely to meet in early April. Ap­par­ently, the two sides have nar­rowed their dif­fer­ences since Trump’s con­ver­sa­tion with Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen on the phone soon af­ter tak­ing of­fice. Later Trump promised to abide by the one-China pol­icy.

Tiller­son andMat­tis have made ef­forts to keep China-US re­la­tions on track. Tiller­son is a for­mer busi­ness leader, andMat­tis is a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. They are more fa­mil­iar with the im­por­tance of the one-China prin­ci­ple in one of the most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in the world. Per­haps be­cause of their ef­forts, Trump re­as­suredXi dur­ing their con­ver­sa­tion on the phone on Feb 10 that theUS will fol­low and re­spect the one-China pol­icy.

But China-US re­la­tions still face chal­lenges, es­pe­cially in re­gional se­cu­rity and bi­lat­eral trade. De-es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions on theKorean Penin­sula and pre­vent­ing the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea from de­vel­op­ing nu­clear mis­siles and other weapons, as well as deal­ing with the prob­lem of de­ploy­ing theUS’ Ter­mi­nalHigh Al­ti­tude Air De­fence anti-mis­sile sys­tem onROK­soil are the key is­sues that Tiller­son is ex­pected to ad­dress dur­ing his visit to China.

AtWed­nes­day’s press con­fer­ence, Premier Li Ke­qiang said China is con­sis­tent on its po­si­tion of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion on the Korean Penin­sula, and that peace at “doorstep” is a top con­cern for China.

To counter the DPRK threat, the ROK is un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to bol­ster its de­fence. But THAAD may be the wrong recipe in the Seoul’s de­fence mix to guard against Py­ongyang’s per­ceived mis­sile threat. Be­sides, THAAD is seen as a po­lit­i­cal and strate­gicUS ploy to con­tain China and Rus­sia.

China and the ROK may be at odds be­cause of THAAD, but at the root of the prob­lem are the DPRK and theUS. Ar­guably, an­tibal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tems are the best de­fence against a mis­sile threat. But such anti-bal­lis­tic mis- sile sys­tems should have a lim­ited range, be­cause ex­ces­sive de­fence ar­range­ments by any coun­try cou­pled with theUS’ strate­gic of­fense ca­pa­bil­ity can only be seen as a provoca­tive strate­gic move.

Tiller­son’s up­com­ing visit to China and State Coun­cilor Yang Jiechi’s re­cent visit to theUS can be seen as ef­forts to pave the way for a meet­ing be­tweenXi and Trump, where the two lead­ers are likely to dis­cuss how to ad­vance China-US strate­gic talks. As such, theDPRK nu­clear is­sue and THAAD’s de­ploy­ment should stim­u­late, rather than pre­vent, Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton to find new­co­op­er­a­tive means to re­duce the threat.

Trump was elected on his prom­ise to “make Amer­ica great again”. There is noth­ing wrong with that. How­ever, Trump should re­al­ize that China-US trade re­la­tions have their own bal­ance and logic, and it is too sim­plis­tic to cal­cu­late the im­por­tance of bi­lat­eral trade by just us­ing the im­port-ex­port vol­ume.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should also re­al­ize the road to a greater Amer­ica couldn’t be achieved with­outChina. Bypro­mot­ingChi­nese ex­ports to theUS, rather than im­pos­ing heavy tax­esonChi­nese prod­ucts, theTrumpad­min­is­tra­tion could boostUS man­u­fac­turingan­dachieve a win­win­re­sult for the two sides. More­over, the two coun­tries should com­plete theChina-US Bi­lat­eral In­vest­men­tTreaty ne­go­ti­a­tion as soon as pos­si­blenowthat theTran­sPaci­ficPart­ner­ship agree­ment ceases to be a stum­bling block.

Bei­jing andWash­ing­ton have much to gain in work­ing to­gether to meet the­myr­iad chal­lenges fac­ing the world. Af­ter rid­ing out the ini­tial un­cer­tainty due to Trump’s faulty han­dling of the Tai­wan ques­tion, the two sides should work to­gether to sort out the out­stand­ing is­sues. And there is no greater plat­form than high-level in­sti­tu­tional talks be­tween the top lead­ers to do so, and Tiller­son’s visit to China could pre­pare the ground­work for that.

And there is no greater plat­form than high-level in­sti­tu­tional talks be­tween the top lead­ers to do so, and Tiller­son’s visit to China could pre­pare the ground­work for that.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at and as­so­ciate dean of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Fu­dan Uni­ver­sity.

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