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Svetlana Kozhirova. Chinese-American relations at the current stage: security issues

The change in the correlation of forces between the East and the West becomes one of the most important trends of the modern era. Therefore, many experts believe that the main content of world politics for the next decade is referred to as the global geopolitical confrontation between China and America.


The Chinese factor in the world politics

The modern world geopolitical situation displays a remarkable enhancing of “Chinese factor” in the world politics, which has the following features:

  • the high dynamics of changes in the system of international relations associated with the emergence in the XXI century of influential organizations such as the G20, the SCO and the BRICS, in which China appears as the country that structures this system and takes the leading position in it;
  • critical instability in the world economy and global finance (China, with its stable annual growth again looks not only more successful, but dominant, and if you add the increase in the share of China in the IMF, China is the only country beneficiary);
  • the worsening of regional conflicts, not only in the middle East (Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine), but also in the area of South China (China, Philippines, Vietnam) and East China sea (China – Japan), etc [1].

Analysts note that the international prestige of China in recent years greatly increased, whereby the interests of Beijing in the field of security has expanded significantly beyond the Asia-Pacific region (APR).

Where once China and the United States did not cooperate sufficiently on security issues, at the present time, this question becomes more than relevant. That is why Washington and Beijing are seeking to find ways to control their differing strategic, economic interests and security. Not coincidentally, on the meeting with the President of the United States D. Trump (FL, April 6-7), the President of China Xi Jinping claimed: “The Parties should work together to continuously strengthen mutual trust and military cooperation” [2].

According to Xi Jinping, China and the United States must continue to use and improve the mechanism of warning each other in terms of important military operations, and also to improve the standards of conduct for security of sea and airspace, “the Military security and mutual trust in this sphere are the basis of strategic mutual trust of China and the United States. The parties must be contacted by all military levels, to develop the mechanism of dialogue and consultations between the ministries of defense and dialogue consultations on security issues in the Asia-Pacific region” [3].


Conflict of interest in the Asia-Pacific region

The Asia-Pacific region occupies an extremely important position in terms of peace and security. The vital interests of powers like USA, Japan, Russia and China are intersected there.

One of the key challenges of international relations in the region can be identified as the growing contradictions between the US and China, including competition in the military-strategic sphere. Modernization and increasing the military strength of the armed forces of the PRC are faced with the desire of the United States to keep its position by increasing its military presence in the region and strengthening collaboration with partners and allies.

The features of the Asia-Pacific region are that there are a large number of potential “hot spots” and the growing militarization, which, however, combined with the development of intensive economic cooperation. For many decades there are still outstanding issues concerning relations between States.

The US has many reasons for active participation in the APR: a significant market and source of capital and technology. Furthermore, there are several traditional allies of America in this region (Japan, South Korea, Australia and others). The central issues in this region are the astablishment of the conditions for long-term growth of the economy, supporting the Trans-Asian trade, investment and technology routes, ensuring the safety and prosperity of regional partners, preventing the hostile forces, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other global threats.


North Korean problem

The first major problem in Asian security is the nuclear program of North Korea. In the next few years of Pyongyang may have (or already had) nuclear weapons, which can strike at the USA, Japan, and of course South Korea. This is a serious challenge to peace and the non-proliferation regime in Northeast Asia.

Washington needs to work with other countries make Pyongyang stop and reverse its nuclear program. And for this you need to clearly understand the sources of leverage and the limits of American influence on North Korea, China, South Korea and Japan.

Researchers believe that China is not interested in the development of the nuclear program of Pyongyang, but the US war against North Korea is not much incentive for Beijing, since if the fall of Kim Jong-un’s regime the NATO bases will be at the borders of China.

After the recent American sanctions against Chinese banks, it became clear, that China will not get involved in an adventure with North Korea [4]. The White house is currently at a crossroads: it now either needs to recognize that Xi Jinping does not intend to disrupt the status quo, or to provide the Chinese a few months at addressing this problem. The latter option is now possible because of Pyongyang and its ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska.

It must also be borne in mind that, Washington ignores Seoul in its attempts to persuade China to pressure North Korea, but in this case, South Korea refuses US military bases on its territory. Such an act would sharply worsen US relations with South Korea and undermine the deterrent capability of North Korea. Beijing clearly understands this and, most likely, will unite with Seoul against the US plan [5].


Taiwan problem

The security of Taiwan and maintaining constructive US-China relations largely depend on how Beijing and even Asia believe that the United States really accept the policy of “one China”.

Almost everyone in China believes that Taiwan is an inalienable part of their country, and the union of the island with the mainland is a sacred thing, which will complete the reconstruction of China after the “hundred years of humiliation” from Japan and the West (China lost Taiwan in the war with Japan in 1895). For the Chinese political status of Taiwan is not the subject of negotiation or compromise, and any Chinese government that would make concessions on this issue will be considered traitors.

Therefore, any attempts of the US to abandon earlier assurances or adjust them have a serious consequence to Chinese-American relations and could even lead to a military confrontation, the first victim of which would be Taiwan. It is recognized by every US administration since 1979, and it is understood in most Asian countries.

Of course, the situation in Taiwan is stable. Growing military and economic capabilities of China at some point may be used to force Taiwan to unification if Beijing considers that other possibilities have been exhausted.

It is especially dangerous if Beijing deems arms supplies from the United States the only factor that keeps Taiwan from political talks on unification. Beijing attempts to stop US military aid could provoke a serious crisis. Therefore, some experts urge, on the contrary, to increase the sale of arms to Taiwan, and to strength the American military presence in the region. It would be better to achieve mutual understanding with China on the scale of military presence and arms sales, in order to prevent crisis [6].


The conflicts in the South China Sea

South China Sea (SCS) is becoming a new center of tension in relations between the US and China. The situation in the region escalated so much that the experts started talking seriously about the risk of military incidents on the water.

The Minister of defense of the USA James Mattis once again condemned the actions of the Chinese authorities in the South China Sea. The White house actively interferes in a regional dispute over the Paracel Islands and shoals of the Spratly archipelago. This region is at the crossroads between the largest world powers, the threat of nuclear war, mutual trade and economic ties holds direct confrontation among them. But contradictions have accumulated so much that the situation, according to experts, becoming more explosive.

Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily said that the US “opened a box of Pandora”, thus changing the balance of nuclear deterrent forces. “The actions of the US have begun a new arms race”, — said the Chinese edition. “China is concerned about the consequences that US missile defense will create for the Chinese forces and means of retaliation — said Tong Zhao, working in Beijing, a research fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, -It is the most serious problem for China. For solving this problem China will develop a new ground and sea-based ballistic missiles with multiple warheads” [7].

In fact the arms race is already underway, as China creates a modernized missile systems. It is actively developing hypersonic gliding aircraft that can overcome air defenses, improved head of the missiles, with high maneuverability, and modernized ICBMs. Missile troops of the PLA diversify its arsenal, and in January, the military tested long-range missiles DF-5C with 10 warheads. Since China is making a major bet on the rockets, the improvement of the American anti-missile shield makes her worry [8].

So much attention of two powers to the South China Sea due to a number of factors. Firstly, the sea is crossed by shipping routes that exported energy from the Middle East to the United States and countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Along this corridor, in particular, China imports 40% of its consumed crude oil. The US share in the transit traffic through the SCS accounts for about $1.2 trillion. In addition, on the shoal of the Paracel Islands and Spratly archipelago were discovered rich deposits of hydrocarbons. Now, the volume of proven oil reserves in the South China Sea — approximately 11 billion barrels.

In 2016 the international court in The Hague forbade China to develop deposits in a number of areas of the water area of the South China Sea. But Beijing ignores this decision. Paracel and Spratly Islands are also crucial military-strategic importance for China, military presence here allows to control from the air a large part of the South China sea [9].

The Chinese are not only fixed on the archipelago, but also is increasing the capacity of its naval forces. A course on the transformation of China into a strong Maritime power was taken by the authorities of China in 2012. Now the Chinese military builds additional submarines and this despite the fact that China, and so has one of the largest submarine fleets (75 submarines). For comparison, the United States Navy has 70 ships. The Chinese Navy is significantly inferior to the States in the number of aircraft carriers: China has two such ships in service, and US – 10. However, at present three more floating airfields are being built at the shipyards of China. These preparations cannot be called redundant – in recent years, the interests of China and the United States differ too much [10].

The approach of the American President Donald Trump to foreign policy, based on tactics and transactions, but not on strategic vision, gave a series of stunning results. Not having clear guiding thoughts, and the more clear priorities that Trump has confused allies and strategic partners of America, especially in Asia, and this posed a threat to regional security [11]. The idea of Xi Jinping, which unwittingly supported by Trump, is that their countries should unite in a “New Type Great Power Relations”. But it’s hard to imagine how two countries with such antagonistic ideologies – not to mention the fact that Graham Allison from Harvard University called “extreme superiority complexes” – can effectively oversee the international affairs [12].


Conclusions and generalizations

First. As China builds up its complex national power, the spectrum of contradictions between Beijing and Washington is steadily expanding. The strengthening of China’s military power is accompanied by its attempts to expand its control over the sea and air routes of communication in the Asia-Pacific region.

Second. Confrontation between China and the United States on the North Korean issue will grow. One of the steps in this direction on the part of the US can be considered the deployment in South Korea under the pretext of the North Korean threat of THAAD anti-missile systems. Trump’s reliance on China to curb North Korea is ineffective, in fact this could lead to even greater destabilization in Asia.

Third. Another potential danger is the destabilization between Beijing and Taipei. The normalization of relations between the US and China, which took place more than 30 years ago, was based on mutual understanding on the status of Taiwan, and this is still critical for both US-China relations and the situation in Asia as a whole. Washington needs to build relations with Beijing and Taipei in such a way as to minimize the risk of confrontation and maintain mutually beneficial ties with both sides.

Fourth. Washington is also concerned about Beijing’s growing activity in asserting its rights to the disputed islands and the waters of the South China Sea. The real situation in these territorial disputes is this: the parties regularly exchange attacks because of the lack of clear rules of the game, mutual suspicions and nationalist impulses. China is the strongest power in the South China Sea (where disputes mainly concern the southern Spratly Islands), and it seeks to better protect its claims to a number of land and sea areas.


[1] Грачиков Е. Китай в мировой политике //https://www.geopolitica.ru/article/kitay-v-mirovoy-politike.

[2] Си Цзиньпин: КНР и США должны усиливать военное сотрудничество //https://ria.ru/world/20170408/1491805893.html.

[3] Там же.

[4] Денисенко В. Китай не поможет Америке подчинить Северную Корею //https://www.pravda.ru/world/15-07-2017/1341980-usa_china_kndr-0.

[5] Швайн М. Как отвечать на угрозы азиатской безопасности в эпоху Трампа //news.ivest.kz/124094653-kak-otvechat-na-ugrozy-aziatskoy-bezopasnosti.

[6]Как отвечать на угрозы азиатской безопасности в эпоху Трампа //http://carnegie.ru/2017/04/21/ru-pub-68725.

[7] Пикрелл Р. Китай и Россия ненавидят американскую ПРО по очень простой причине //http://inosmi.ru/politic/20170604/239505927.html.

[8] Там же.

[9] Портякова Н. Американский грозовой фронт над Южно-Китайским морем //http://pravdoryb.info/amerikanskiy-grozovoy-front-nad-yuzhno-kitayskim-morem-121066.html.

[10] Морской бой: развяжут ли США и Китай третью мировую войну  //https://news.rambler.ru/articles/37055329/?utm_content=news&utm_medium=read_more&utm_source.

[11] Американская угроза Азии //https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/asia-trump-policy-reversals-by-brahma-chellaney-2017-04/russian.

[12] Там же.

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