Creating distractions out of thin air won’t help mend China-U.S. ties

Note: The following is an edited translation of a commentary from the Chinese-language “Commentaries on International Affairs.”

On Thursday at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., United States Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech attacking China’s domestic and foreign policies. Before the speech, there had been whispers that the White House was going to release a substantive new policy position towards China. Instead, what we heard were old, baseless claims that had already been hyped up by the American side. China’s government swiftly refuted the many accusations made in the speech. “The speech made unwarranted accusations against China’s domestic and foreign policies, and slandered China by claiming that it meddles in the internal affairs and elections of the United States,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying. “This is nothing but hearsay… it is creating something out of thin air.”

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Marriott Orlando Downtown during a campaign rally and luncheon for Florida Gov. Rick Scott's senate campaign in Orlando, FL, USA, September 6, 2018.[Photo:IC]

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Marriott Orlando Downtown during a campaign rally in Orlando, FL, USA, September 6, 2018.[File Photo:IC]

Despite the claims by the American Vice President – and by President Trump himself at the United Nations Security Council last week – that China is in some way interfering in the upcoming mid-term elections, the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Tuesday at a widely reported cyber security summit that “We currently have no indication that a foreign adversary intends to disrupt our election infrastructure.”

Pence’s speech comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to China on Monday, when the two sides plan to exchange views on their bilateral ties, along with international and regional issues of mutual concern. This helps to explain the timing of the speech, as it follows a well-worn tactic used by the American administration. Just before a visit to China by a senior American government official, figures close to the White House come out all guns blazing in an attempt to seek a position of strength ahead of any negotiations, and to build political capital back home for the ongoing trade disputes.

The Vice President’s speech was clearly calculated to make the most of the opportunity to restock his administration’s reserves of political capital ahead of the mid-term elections. It’s old news that the White House periodically rouses its voter base by attacking China in an effort to shore up their electoral support. And the administration clearly wants to turn the public’s attention away from the domestic investigation into potential ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.

As Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying has made clear, it is China’s position that it will not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. China is committed to pursuing a path towards peaceful development in accordance with the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which were created in the 1950s. These principles govern China’s relationships with other countries, and call for mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.

The health of the China-U.S. relationship has consequences not only for the people in these two countries, but also for the wider world. Despite the trade frictions that started under the Trump administration, the bilateral trade in goods between the two countries was worth 583.7 billion U.S. dollars last year, 233 times what it was back in 1979 when Beijing and Washington first established diplomatic relations. As China’s recent white paper about the trade frictions laid out, the economies of the two countries are highly complementary and deeply integrated. Cooperation benefits both sides – and attacks on the relationship hurt both sides. Jeffrey Bader, former director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council under the Obama Administration and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned recently that if the Trump administration continues along the path of disengagement with China, this would negatively impact on the United States.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has warned America’s leaders that they should recognize what their fundamental national interests are, and not be distracted by the current disputes. Both countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and there is still plenty of room to expand cooperation on global issues such as counter-terrorism, cyber security, space exploration, and peacekeeping operations. The friendly exchanges between the two countries over the past 40 years serves as a strong foundation on which to build deeper ties that can help to guarantee that this most important relationship can remain healthy into the future. Regardless of the White House’s latest statements, China’s policy toward the United States is clear: It wants a relationship free of conflict and confrontation, and that is based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

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