US-China relations spiraling downward
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The refusal of Chinese Communist Party-owned People’s Daily to run an op-ed written by outgoing US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is just one more indication of the rapidly deteriorating relations between the United States and China, triggering an exchange of strongly worded statements from both sides.

Titled “Resetting the Relationship Based on Reciprocity,” Ambassador Branstad’s op-ed stated that the US desires “a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China,” but he also did not mince words in saying that the relationship increasingly became imbalanced over the years as China not only benefitted from America’s openness but exploited it as well.

“We have welcomed Chinese students and researchers into our universities and laboratories, where they have acquired knowledge to modernize and develop China’s economy. While US journalists face restrictions on reporting and even entering China, Chinese state media workers have long enjoyed open access in the United States. PRC diplomats have open access to American society, while our diplomats in China are required to navigate a state approval system for even the most basic engagements with the Chinese people,” wrote Ambassador Branstad.

He also spoke out against Chinese entities that buy American companies “not to create jobs but to acquire technology” that would be developed later to compete against the US, and accused some Chinese students and researchers who take advantage of their open access to US universities, research facilities and companies to “steal American intellectual property.”

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo also weighed in, posting on Twitter that the Chinese Communist Party “complains about a lack of fair and reciprocal treatment with the US,” but “at the same time refused to run Ambassador Branstad’s op-ed in the People’s Daily, while their ambassador is free to publish in any US media outlet.”

China fired back with a response from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who said the article was “full of loopholes and seriously inconsistent with facts and wantonly attacks and smears China.” He also pointed out that like media in the US, People’s Daily has the right to decide if and when it will run an article, is entitled to make necessary changes and edits, can “refuse publishing an article with obvious factual mistakes and bias” and urged the US to “stop creating rumors and lies.”

In my three years in Washington, I have seen how American public opinion has become increasingly negative towards China, triggered by issues such as unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft and industrial espionage, among others. The COVID-19 pandemic “blew the top,” exacerbating the negative sentiment among many Americans. According to a Pew survey, 78 percent of Americans blame China for the spread of the virus, with 30 million of them losing their jobs.

Citing several studies, the Brookings Institution said the COVID-19 pandemic has “claimed more than three times the American lives that were lost in the Vietnam War” and has created “a demand shock, a supply shock and a financial shock all at once.” The situation has resulted in a severe economic downturn as the US experienced two consecutive quarters of declines in GDP, with COVID-19-related job losses wiping out 113 straight months of job growth.

In our conversations with foreign policy advisers of Joe Biden, they said a Democratic administration will continue with the policy of countering China’s growing threat across many fronts. This was evident at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last Thursday where US Senate Democrats unveiled the America Labor, Economic Competitiveness, Alliances, Democracy and Security (America LEADS) Act that aims to strengthen US response against China’s “predatory economic behavior.”

According to US Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the America LEADS Act will allow the US to “respond directly to aggressive Chinese behavior with a full range of political, diplomatic and economic tools.” The proposal aims to counteract the Chinese Communist Party’s “predatory trade practices and aggressive military behavior, reinvigorates our alliances and turn the tables by making essential investments in our workers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers to ensure ‘Made in America,’ not ‘Made in China,’ defines our future,” Senator Brown said.

During the committee hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said China’s conduct in the past few months has been “particularly egregious” as seen in the violence on the border with India, the aggressive moves in the South China Sea and other maritime areas, saying “these are not the actions of a responsible global actor, but a lawless bully.”

Asst. Secretary Stilwell said that while the US is not asking other nations to choose sides, they should stand up against China’s aggressive behavior and protect their own national sovereignty, security, values and economic well-being. He made it clear, however, that “competition with the People’s Republic of China need not lead to conflict,” and that the US will seek to cooperate with China in areas where the interests of both nations align.

As the US goes on a diplomatic offensive, it will make sure to carry a “big stick” – to paraphrase president Theodore Roosevelt. A few days ago, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed a plan to expand the US naval fleet, with “more lethal” capabilities from the air, the sea and via space.

Clearly, any further deterioration in the relationship between these two nations will affect all of us. But while both sides may exchange sharp verbal attacks, many analysts believe this will not necessarily lead to a confrontation – not for now – since both countries recognize there is only one way to resolve the conflict: Finding a peaceful resolution.

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