CHINA’s RISING INFLUENCE: IMPACTS ON U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS AND THE ROLE OF AMERICA IN ASIA
The 21st century marks a radical power shift in Asia. The United States has been occupied dealing with issues in the Middle East and the Global War on Terrorism (Yost 4). More recently economic issues such as a growing budget deficit and high rates of unemployment have been consuming the time and energy of political leaders in the United States. Consequently, the United States has neglected Asia and has lost its influence in this regioni. At the same time, China’s economic, political and military powers are growing. China has been holding important positions in international organizations in addition to building relationships with many regional countries (Shambaugh 3). This has posed challenges for the United States on some key issues involving the security threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, relations with Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries, as well as human rights issues in China. As Sino – American economic interdependence continues to deepen between the two economic giants; U.S. policies toward China in these issues are likely to become more constrained.
China’s military modernization
In December 2005, China introduced a new national policy called “China’s Peaceful Development road”. It stated that China would avoid initiating quarrels with foreign countries and seek harmonious international cooperation. However, that national development policy has no relation to the Chinese military conflicts with different countries in the region. It also contradicts China’s recent actions in dealing with trends in international security. This raises the question: How harmonious are China’s foreign policies?
A rapid and continuous increase in China’s defense and military budget over the past fifteen years is strong evidence that the Chinese government is concerned for its security. Factoring purchase power parity China’s military spending in 2008 was roughly $450 billion, putting it close to what the US spent (Tkacik, 98). China’s military modernization program has been preparing for twenty-five years to be Asia’s most powerful defense force. Before the modernization, China’s forces were at best only able to frighten and intimidate Taiwan and were not able to fight any war due to a lack of air and sea power. Hence, the goal was to develop forces that are able to deter potential adversaries and carry out first strikes to take advantage on the battlefield (Sutter 180). To achieve that goal, China needed further development to strike, respond and resolve quickly in any situation. This goal was called C4ISR, which stands for Command, Control, Communication, Computer, Intelligence and Strategic Reconnaissance (Sutter 185). Chinese modernization efforts included modernizing its satellite system, its cruise and ballistic missile program, as well as the submarine and air-defense systems and their information and technology systems (Sutter 183). In 2007 China launched an anti-satellite missile demonstrating China’s growing military capabilities. China also developed intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, most of China’s modern weapons were not domestically developed, but rather were imported. Chinese leaders focus on technology and information system.
In general, China’s strong determination to deter perceived superpower aggressions, protect and recover its territory, and enhance its regional as well as global status has been the purpose of this modernization. Also, China has strong claims for territories in the region, both on land and sea. Modernizing military forces to raise its influences in international affairs, the Chinese government believes that they can now use their power to get what they want. Again, it is obvious that “China’s peaceful development road” has been an intentional diversion to draw attention away from its aggressive military policies (Sutter 186-188).
China’s military modernization first and foremost is aimed at the presence of the U.S. in Asia. The American government has claimed to be willing to sustain the stability of Asia if China has any aggressive movement. The U.S. has long supported Taiwan’s defense and has worked closely with Japan, Australia and other Asian countries. The U.S. remains uncertain of China’s peaceful route due to the unpersuasive pronouncement. Additionally, the U.S. wants to maintain its favorable power position in Asia (Sutter 183). In this context, it seems reasonable for China to pursue its military modernization, especially when there is a rising interest in unification with Taiwan. Therefore, the U.S. and China will likely be locked in an escalating arms race. Aside from the US, , China has other potential security threats and territory disputes with other Asian countries such as Japan, India and Vietnam (Gill 247-65). This military modernization has also dictated and given clear meaning to China’s foreign policies.
China is having a very aggressive expansion plan to protect and claim territory on the sea. Chinese leaders plan to deploy in the Indian Ocean, creating a sea line of communication between ports and protecting its vital flow of energy from the Middle East. At the same time, China continues to conduct military exercises in the South China Sea. Altogether, this modernization complicates China’s relationship with the U.S, Japan, India, and various Southeast Asian countries among others (Sutter 185). China has shown much of the world the extent of its aggressiveness and its increasing power in the region. China has also modernized its military force because Asia became the U.S.’s secondary concern since the terrorist attacks on Sep 11th, 2001. Currently, no single country in Asia, with the possible exception a Japan with an amended constitution, is capable of catching up with China’s advanced and modernized military power (Pollack 329-46). However, given high levels of economic interdependence, conflict between China and economically advanced East Asian economies is unlikely. (The United States, Japan and South Korea are among China’s largest export markets and China’s exports of goods and services constitute 39.7% of its GDP)2.
U.S. relations with Taiwan have always been on obstacle in Sino – American relations post WWII. Under the administrations of Presidents Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan was aggressive and volatile in seeking its autonomy and moving toward independence from China. Taiwan continuously sought and received U.S. military support to protect it against the PRC, both in terms of arms purchases from the U.S. and defense agreements should relations between the two China’s turn confrontational.
Since the breakdown of U.S. – Taiwan relations in 1979, Taiwanese ethnic groups in America have actively lobbied for U.S. foreign policies to support Taiwan’s autonomous status along with promoting exchanges between the two governments (Ibid 9). As a result, the U.S. committed to selling arms to Taiwan over many years. The value of arms sale that the U.S. agreed and delivered to Taiwan in the 2002-2005 period were worth between $1.1 billion and $4.0 billion ; in the 2006-2009 period, military sales grew to $5.7 billion and $3.5 billion respectively. Taiwan has also sought the recognition of its autonomy from different countries and by participating in international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations (UN). These actions have raised China's concerns and have resulted in tensions in the Sino – American relationship. China has continued to subvert Taiwanese efforts to join international organizations. For example, Taiwan’s attempt to join the WHO as a “health entity” was impeded by China. China uses a combination of economic incentives, military threats and coercive diplomacy to control Taiwan (Sutter 227). Regardless of their efforts, Taiwan has won diplomatic recognition from several small Caribbean and African states. China has realized that Taiwan would not voluntarily agree to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and has shifted its focus from unifying Taiwan to preventing it from achieving further international recognition as an independent country.
In 2003 – 2004, President Chen proposed pro-independence reforms that concerned both the U.S. and China, causing them to react with alarm (Glaser 23-25). President Bush publicly criticized Taiwanese leaders and urged Taiwan to stop its provocative actions (Dumbaugh 8). This was a way to reduce the tension in the U.S. – China relationship, easing China’s offensive stance toward the U.S. while it has a preoccupation with the conflict in Iraq and North Korean nuclear issues. Yet, the U.S. continued to provide military support to Taiwan in its defense against the PRC. During this period, the U.S. had engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of its Global War of Terrorism, which has been costly in terms of U.S. financial and military resources. Hence, the U.S. wanted to avoid heightened tension with China over the Taiwan issue. Equally, China did not desire to escalate the tension; it waited for the end of Chen’s administration with the aim of encouraging the election of a more amenable administration to deal with. In Taiwan, Chen faced many difficulties. He was losing his credibility, which was aggravated by a corruption scandal targeting him. Thus, Chen’s influence was weakened and he was urged to resignii.
Finally, in March 2008, the Chen administration (Pan Green party) was defeated; and Ma Ying – Jeon (Pan Blue party), the previous mayor of Taiwan, won the election and started a new period of Taiwan – U.S. – China relations with reduced tensions (Sutter 187). Ma adopted more flexible policies toward China that enhanced the economic ties between Taiwan and China (Sutter 219-221). There have been many high-level meetings since 2008, including the on-going talks between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) (Sutter 229). Nevertheless, both sides have always avoided talking about the sensitive sovereignty issues or any movement toward either “one China” or “one Taipei, one China”. Ma won a concession from China, which agreed to stop opposing Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization under the name “China Taipei”. However, there are still roadblocks in the Strait Relations that remain in placeiii. For the United States, this flexible political stance of Taiwan was seen in positive light by both the Bush and Obama administrations, as America does not consume its energy in order to ease the tension over the Taiwan Strait (Sutter 233).
These positive changes brought both benefits and costs to China, Taiwan and America. China seemed to have gained the most benefits: close economic ties with Taiwan, which would pull Taiwan toward reunification; improvement in its relation with the United States; as well as avoiding any need to counteract Taiwan's pro-independence actions (Sutter 234-235). However, China has not reached its goal of “one China” unification (Sutter 236-237). Tension between the two powers may well escalate with a possible return of the Pan-Green party to the presidency in Taiwan after a future election. Although having more risky costs, Taiwan still gained recognitions from more international affairs. As China increases its export and import of goods with countries, its bilateral relations with those countries generally improve. Nevertheless, Taiwan’s economy became increasingly dependent on China more than ever. It now has to ask China's concession for greater participation in international forums (Sutter 239). At the same time, Taiwan's unwillingness to invest in its own defense has frustrated the U.S., particularly in light of China’s fast rising military capability. On the other hand, the United States’ gains seemed relatively modest compared to China’s and Taiwan’s: it did not have to exert much effort to ease tension in this region. The U.S. and China relations have also been improved as a result (Sutter 240).
U.S. - Japan Alliance
Overall, compared to U.S. relations with China or South Korea, the U.S. – Japan alliance is less controversial. This close and tight relationship acts as a “lynchpin” for U.S. interaction within East Asia and the Asia Pacific. Sharing the same democratic values, mutual interest in Asia, and in global stability and development, Japan and America work together for shared goals of mutual economic well-being (Sutter 87). They have become economically interdependent and are each other’s most important foreign trade market. Several common political interests bind the U.S – Japan relationship and their security alliance: for example, the US nuclear umbrella helps Japan deal with its neighboring countries and strengthens the U.S.’s role in dealing with Asia Pacific problems (Avery 9). This relationship had been quite strong until America invaded Iraq. This required the presence of Japanese troops in Afghanistan and Iraq which in turn raised debates in the Japanese public (Sutter 91). Hence, the Prime Minister of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, was forced to temporarily halt Japanese oil tankers in order to allow them to provide fuel for American naval ships in the Indian Ocean. Japan has also been concerned with greater attention given to China by the U.S. since the 1960s (Sutter 99). This has caused Japan to feel that the U.S. has neglected their relationship.
Even though they have good relations, the U.S. and Japan have faced periodic strains due to differences in trade, economic issues and stances on foreign policy. After the Cold War, American and Japanese interests were best served by strengthening their alliance with several agreements in military co-operation. China’s rising influence in Asia deeply concerned Japan because the U.S has developed a higher-level relationship with China (Avery 8). The U.S. has given China greater priority in order to better solve Taiwan and North Korean issues. In the 1998 trip to China, President Clinton did not include Tokyo in his agenda, which made Japan worry about its alliance with the U.S. Japan used to have the same objective toward the unstable situation on the Korean Peninsula as well as Taiwan Strait (Sutter 88-89). However, the flexibility of U.S. policies regarding Taiwan and North Korea surprised Japanese officials and have caused them to feel excluded from U.S. decisions. The effort to unify Korea and how it relates to Beijing’s power made Japan worried. Japan believed that the U.S. had not put enough effort to protect them if there was a problem with North Korea (U.S. Department of State). It is also worried of being involved in military matters with the U.S. if there was problem in the Taiwan Strait. At the same time, Japan’s sensitive relationship with China and South Korea has made the U.S. – Japan alliance more complicated. Even though some populations within Japan oppose the U.S.-Japan alliance, Japan still works closely and cooperates with the U.S. in the Global War on Terrorism and the its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2005, there was an agreement between the U.S. and Japan giving Japan a more active role in Asia.
Both the U.S. and Japan have shown great interest in each other in solving global issues. Japan had always supported the U.S. in every aspect of counter terrorism and operations in Iraq (which was one of only two out of 27 participating countries to support U.S. contention). However, Japanese economic stagnation in the 1990s has been cited as a reason for the U.S. to underrate Japan (Armitage, Nye 2). Hence, Japan did not receive US support to become a permanent member of United Nation Security Council (Sutter 90-91).
In the past, Japan has strongly opposed the Proliferation Security Initiative of North Korea. Japan restricted trade and multiple relations with North Korea. In 2006, Japan sought to take measures against North Korea’s ballistic missile tests. However, in 2007, Japan took a more flexible stance toward North Korea’s nuclear program. Still, Japanese leaders were concerned that the U.S. was too flexible with North Korea. This has caused a rift in US-Japan relations (Sutter 203).
The rivalry and shaky history between Japan and China have created difficulties for the United States. The challenge has been dealing with issues in Asia while maintaining relations with multiple countries. Although Japan and China have increasing levels of economic interdependence, there are remaining differences in politics, nationalism, and historical and defense issues, which have prevented the two sides from furthering their collaboration (Sutter 206). Worse still, disputed territorial rights on the East China Sea as well as the controversial Yasukuni Shrine are significant obstacles in Sino – Japanese relation. Also, China and South Korea still hold strict views over Japanese behavior before and during the Second World War. Chinese and South Korean history textbooks have been written with a bias and are misleading. For example, children are incorrectly taught what Japan did pre-WWII resulting in Chinese and South Korean citizens believing in a controlled and false history. Despite the public ROC and ROK public criticism of the U.S. for not taking sides in these history disputes, the U.S. Congress recently did confront Japan for what it did in the past (Pei, Swaine).
Japan and the U.S. are military allies under the Security Treaty in 1960, which states that U.S. will assist Japan if Japan is attacked. In return, Japan grants the U.S. military base right on its territory. This alliance is strengthened by the Transformation and Realignment for the Future: significant steps that let Japan to be more active in solving regional and international problems. Yet, the US-Japan military alliance sometimes faces problems (e.g. agreement deadline missed in March 2006, or redeployment of troops, etc.). At the 2 + 2 meeting in February 2005, Japanese and U.S. leaders outlined more global visions about these problems: “common strategic objectives” for “peaceful resolution”. They have large projects of defense technology to which China has strongly opposed. Meanwhile, Japan still has its own independent defense program (Glosserman 4).
Human Rights Issues
Differences in human rights have their roots in the separate U.S. and Chinese backgrounds. The U.S. and China have always given human right issues secondary consideration so problems along with these issues have been less significant. Recently, Chinese leaders have created policies in politics, economics, and in the military that are more agreeable with the world norms supported by the U.S. However, this is not the case for issues related to its territory or one party leadership. Some critics believe that recent changes in China’s policies do not affect Chinese leadership control of political power (Sutter 243-244).
The U.S. and China have tried not to let the human right issues impede the advances in their relations. There have been domestic debates in both the U.S. and in China for giving little attention to human rights and values. Deng Xiaoping’s return to power brought remarkable demonstration of democracy, more free speech and more individual freedom. However, it ended a year after that and even made the situation worse than before. After that, Americans and foreign commentators knew more about human rights issues in China. There has since been a wide gap in Sino – American relations. Chinese conservative leaders have played key roles in making policies that have prevented other political members from reforming the economy and reaching out to the world. They saw the U.S. and Western countries as those resisting or constraining its influences in Asia (Sutter 247).
China has been diligent and effective in suppressing political dissidents and religious organizations that were sponsored by the U.S. and other Western countries that favor changes in China’s authoritarian political system. The U.S. had always put lots of attention to China’s human right issue. However, after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 and the global economic crisis, U.S. leaders have minimized the differences over human rights in order to have more stable relations with China. While President Bush held a hard line toward Chinese human rights issues, President Obama has captured the balance since talks at the annual Sino – American leadership dialogue in 2009. China highlighted cooperation with the U.S. in its economy, society and to some extent, in human rights issues. However, China has drawn the line against the U.S.’s effort to interfere in China’s internal affairs, which may affect its sovereignty and the unity of the CCP (Sutter 248-249).
Contemporary China Human Right Practices and Issues
Human right issues have always been a hot and sensitive topic in the U.S. – China relationship. Because of both foreign and domestic pressures and calls for reforms, China has finally improved some of its human rights policies (e.g. positive expansion of media freedom, widened Internet access, etc.) Better still, the boom of the Internet and improvements in technologies have made it difficult for China to control information to the public. However, China still maintains tight controls over people in Tibet and Xinjiang, and has resorted to harsh suppression to the use of the Internet in these areas. Therefore, the U.S. spends lots of money to preserve Tibetan culture and other human rights in China (Sutter 249).
China’s leaders, on one hand, passed legislation in 2006 and 2008 that allows protests against political issues, and on the other hand, permits the arrest of protest organizers and activists. This is a way to protect the unity of CCP against its fear of a “Color Revolution” since there are small but growing advocacy groups in China, which are supported by foreign countries. China’s government works hard to find the balance of flexibility and rigidity, or otherwise, there would be uncontrollable large-scale protests. There is now a mixed picture of human rights issues in China with both positive and negative facts: Chinese people are now having more human rights and freedom in a way that does not hurt the one-party rule; nevertheless, China’s government still uses inhumane killing, deception and hard legislation like birth control policy. People can easily be put into jail with inhumane conditions because of “endangering state security”. Still, Chinese leaders are vigilant, using many means to control the mass media and restrict the information on the Internet. Since the boom of the Internet, there have been more freedoms as well as information that can be found on the Internet. Hence, these restrictions really have angered the young Chinese population (Sutter 250).
American media and other foreign sources have recognized the improvements of the religious freedom in China. China allows religious group activities that do not interfere with the state education system, meaning that China will not protect other religions. In the U.S. annual report, China is annually listed by America as concerned for “particularly severe violation of religious freedom”. It has been seen in China that Christianity has played more important roles. However, many unregistered protestant churches lack legal protection. Depending on the place, Chinese protestors might be treated inhumanly; especially before the Olympic Games 2008, many protestors were arrested and foreigners were restricted and denied visa (Sutter 252-53).
Tibet is a lasting issue in Sino-American relations. The U.S. secretly supported Tibet’s insurgencies against China in the past. After normalization, the U.S. has continued to support Tibet as a separate country. On March 10th, 2008, Chinese leaders had a hard and bold response to the large-scale protest. Chinese government argued that it was a way to maintain the civil order. Consequently, there was a strong call for boycotting the Beijing Olympics 2008 and for a talk to the Dalai Lama from the United States. On one hand China supports Tibet with economic assistance while at the same time it often tries to interfere in Tibetan culture and religion. China supports economic development in Tibet as a way to deter threatening intentions of Tibetan uprisings. However, it is mainly Han Chinese benefitting from this economic assistance while the Tibetan people are generally marginalized from economic assistance. Additionally, China interferes with Tibetan culture by replacing Tibetan language in schools with Mandarin Chinese, making it much easier for the children to forget its cultural heritage. China also places restrictions to religious activities in Tibet, limiting the numbers of monks and nuns.. The U.S. responds sharply and continues supporting/protecting Tibetan culture. Despite the pressure from foreign countries, there will be little changes in China’s policies toward Tibet, which could lead to a turmoil and bloody repression (Sutter 257-58).
Uighur Muslim (Xinjiang Autonomous Region)
In 2009, the clash between Uighur and Han Chinese in Urumchi (Xinjiang Capital City) created many disputes. The U.S. supported China to end the war but criticized China’s unfair treat of Uighur Muslim people. 45% of the population in Xinjiang Autonomous Region is Uighur Muslim and is one of the biggest Turkic groups. Chinese leaders worried that these groups would raise the demand for religious freedom and collaborate with terrorist groups. Thus, China has applied strident strategies focusing on Uighur leaders along with a series of strict governance on training imams, usages of languages, and public access to mosques. Uighurs are often sentenced to death for political crimes such as Uighur’s “separate activities” during the clash (Sutter 259-60).
Falun Gong is a movement that combines spiritual beliefs, slow-moving exercises and mediation with moral philosophy, which was first introduced in China in 1992. This spiritual discipline has been developed widespread all over China but it was severely suppressed by the Chinese government. However, this movement, to some extent, has gradually declined the aggressive suppression toward human rights issues (Sutter 261).
US Government Efforts regarding Human Rights Issues
As human rights issues are secondary importance to Sino – American relation, U.S. contemporary policies toward these issues promote democracy and individual rights in China (Gill 6-12). Under the Bush administration, the U.S. tried to influence Chinese leaders and provided funds to help strengthen rules and the civil society as well as help the US-based NGOs and Internet provider companies. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. has continued those practices in a more balanced way. Although China now carries a low profile on human rights issues and still has aggressive and negative response to any interference from foreign countries, it has cooperated with the U.S. on some programs on human right issues. The U.S. has tried to find ways to push the human right issues in China, but little progress has been made (Sutter 261-62).