How China-US row can affect East Asia

By Shi Peipei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/27 18:38:13

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After US President Donald Trump assumed office, the US government labeled China a "revisionist" powers defined the Asian nation as a long-term strategic adversary. 

Since the Trump administration initiated the Section 232 and 301 investigations to strengthen supervision on Chinese investment in the science and technology sectors and increased tariffs on its export commodities, China-US trade friction has escalated. Despite rounds of talks, the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. Apart from this, under US orders and pressure on its allies to boycott products from Huawei and IT company ZTE, attempts to extradite Chinese tech giant Huawei's Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada to the US have jeopardized China-US relations.

China and the US are important trading partners for most Asian countries and the current state of relations between the two superpowers has created economic disturbances for other East Asian countries. They will be affected by US sanctions due to their links with China's supply chain. These sanctions will possibly lead to slower regional economic growth.

Meanwhile, China-US trade frictions have created opportunities with these same East Asian countries. They believe they should seize these opportunities to develop "ASEAN as a single market" to increase trade among these countries and make intra-regional trade borderless to reduce losses from the China-US trade dispute.

Strategically, if China and the US cannot reach a compromise, East Asian countries would have to choose sides, which would force them to unite to reduce their reliance on China or the US. 

Another scenario could see the countries choosing sides on different issues. It would involve making a choice to cooperate with either the US or China according to different issues instead of solely depending on the US or the former Soviet Union in economic, political, and security sectors just as they had previously done. 

For example, Japan is economically dependent on China, yet remains a US military ally. It rejects China's involvement in its 5G development, planning to disconnect from China in areas on technological advancement.

When it comes to national security, the China-US trade conflict may prompt the US to pursue the interests and security of its allies while ignoring the interests of others. The confrontation would diminish China-US cooperation on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and increase the risk of nuclear proliferation in East Asia. Furthermore, a potential military confrontation between the two could force other East Asian countries to purchase weapons thus intensifying an arms race in the name of national security. 

However, some positive changes have occurred during the ongoing China-US trade war. The Trump administration's economic sanctions against China have propelled East Asian economies to come closer, which, to a certain extent, has improved relations between China and countries like Japan, India, the Philippines, and also Southeast Asian nations. 

China-US trade disputes cannot be resolved quickly due to the complex domestic situation on both sides. Given the interests of the US Republican Party and the presidential election in 2020, the Trump administration will exert more pressure on China in the coming two years. 

In this sense, it is unlikely the US will yield during trade talks with China. In addition, Trump could continue to cause trouble on the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issues, which China should be ready for and have a long-term strategy to deal with. 

As an economic powerhouse in East Asia, China's interaction with other regional countries could influence the adjustment of Beijing-Washington ties. Regarding strategic interaction with the US, China should focus on the development of East Asia and increase regional cooperation to achieve economic and national security objectives.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [email protected]

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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