How they see us: Trump’s China policy still unclear
China feels encouraged after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said Yang Sheng in the Global Times (China). Officials here had been alarmed by President Trump’s first actions in office, when he threatened a trade war and questioned the “One China” policy, under which the U.S. recognizes the self-governing island of Taiwan as part of China. But this week in Beijing, Tillerson told President Xi Jinping that the U.S. wanted a relationship based on “mutual respect” and “win-win cooperation”— phrases that, Chinese analysts say, mean the Trump administration has “implicitly endorsed the new model of major power relations.” Under the Obama administration, the U.S. had refused to use the term “mutual respect,” because it implied acceptance of China’s definition of its core interests— including dominion over the South China Sea and free rein to do what it sees fit in restive provinces like Tibet and Xinjiang. “I appreciate your comment that the China-U.S. relationship can only be defined by cooperation and friendship,” Xi told Tillerson.
The secretary’s boss apparently does not agree, said China Daily in an editorial. While Tillerson was in Asia, Trump tweeted that North Korea was “behaving very badly” and that Beijing had “done little to help” stop Kim Jong Un’s regime from developing new nuclear weapons. Trump wants China, which accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, to use its economic leverage to punish Pyongyang for recent missile tests. But Washington is asking Beijing to help alleviate a U.S. security concern while simultaneously “putting Beijing in harm’s way.” China has identified the U.S.’s THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system as a security threat that could blunt China’s own nuclear deterrent. Yet the U.S. is deploying that very system in nearby South Korea. Meanwhile, Trump is “reportedly plotting a new, bigger arms sales package to Taiwan.” None of that sounds like respect for China’s core interests. Does Tillerson even speak for Trump?
Maybe not, said Ankit Panda in the South China Morning Post. During his six-day Asian tour, Tillerson was supposed to reassure South Korea and Japan that Washington remained committed to protecting its allies. But South Korean media said the secretary “cut short” meetings with officials in Seoul because he was suffering from fatigue—a claim Tillerson denies—and then Tillerson’s boss undercut his efforts in China by tweeting during his visit. For now, Tillerson seems like an irrelevant outsider in the Trump administration. His words carry little weight, so “U.S. allies and adversaries in Asia will remain uneasy” about the president’s hazy plans for the region. We’ll know more next month when Trump and Xi meet at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, said Ni Feng in the Global Times. Until then, nobody should panic about minor fluctuations in U.S.-China diplomacy. “Time is needed for the two countries to strengthen coordination for the new type of great-power relations.”