BY JEANETTE LENOIR
A recent talk in New Hartford sponsored by Upper Mohawk Valley Chapter of the United Nations Association, (UMVUNA) highlighted some of the factors facing U.S.–Sino relations as the two sides work to settle contentious trade agreements. Visiting Assistant Professor of Government & Politics, Jun T. Kwon, Ph.D. says to fully grasp the foreign policy directions of both countries we have to understand the Five T’s; Thucydides Trap, Trade, Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen.
Starting with the first T, Kwon says the two sides share a relationship that is mainly rooted in the “Thucydides Trap,” referring to ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ reasoning of the Peloponnesian War. “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Kwon says, “The 21st Century belongs to China.” He says it’s this fear that’s causing disruptions in U.S.-China relationships. “China’s power is growing and it’s causing fear in America,” he said. He explains that despite the pessimistic prospects of the two countries, some are optimistic of China rising especially as it pertains to world politics. “They welcome China challenging the U.S. in world politics.”
When it comes to the second T; Trade, Kwon says, “There’s definitely a trade war going on. Free trade benefits everyone. The issue is who will gain more? The U.S. wants to curb China gaining but the U.S. and China are economically intertwined. And, so many other countries are losing to U.S. in trade policy. Chinese growing power is striking fear.” Despite the circumstances, Kwon says, “There’s a compromise expected in the next couple of weeks on the U.S.-China trade dispute.” He adds that ultimately, without an agreement, its American consumers that stand to lose because they’ll see prices skyrocket when China retaliates over trade disputes. Kwon says the negotiations are ongoing because trade relations should be reciprocal.
The third T; Taiwan, may be one of the most contentious issues between China and the U.S. Although Taiwan is a self-governed island under U.S. protection, China claims it as part of the PRC, (People’s Republic of China). Kwon states, “President Trump signed Taiwan Travel Act last month which would facilitate and expand high level visits and exchanges between senior officials in Washington and Taipei. It has fueled the already strained relations between the U.S. and China. One China policy is a principle from China’s point of view that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China.” He goes onto say that China sees it as U.S. intervention into Chinese domestic affairs. “Nothing is angering China more than perception of foreign intervention into domestic affairs.”
The issue of Tibet covers the fourth T. Tibetan independence is undoubtedly an issue causing social instability in China. Kwon says the U.S. stands accused by the Chinese government of instigating Tibetan independence and with an expected White House visit from the Dalai Lama soon, China is concerned about what President Trump will do to harm already strained relations. Kwon says, even though China is eagerly awaiting the death of the Dalai Lama who has tirelessly worked—even in exile–toward Tibetan independence, the concern is a real one for the country because other minorities want to break away from China too. “Tibet refers to one of the most sensitive sources of social instability in China, which is so-called ethnic minority issue. In particular, two notable minorities which have expressed their independence sentiments are Tibetans and Uyghurs who are Turkish speaking Muslims residing in Xinjiang Province in Northwest of China.”
The final T is centered on an important moment in China’s political liberation; 1989 Tiananmen Square. “There has been no meaningful protest since,” Kwon says. This, despite the human rights violations China stands accused of by the U.S. and other world organizations. When the Chinese government removed constitutional term limits to allow President Xi Jinping to be president for life, the Chinese people didn’t seem to care about removing the 10-year term limits and Professor Kwon says, “This is a problem with the lack of activism since Tiananmen Square.” Adding, “China is not democratic at all. But how democracy should be defined is relative. Whether human rights are universal is relative. And, what is democracy? How do you define it? Comparing U.S. and China; U.S. is focused on the By The People part while China focuses more on the For The People part,” he says, adding, “The U.S. wants to use human rights and democracy to make China look bad.” Nonetheless, Kwon says democracy in China will take time and imposing values on others is not democracy.
In a labor intensive industry the U.S. can’t compete with China because China has labor power. “And this threatens U.S. markets.” Asked if the fear is justified, Kwon says, “China wants to come back as the super power. To be number one on the world’s stage. There will be conflict because the U.S. does not want China to take over. If that happens, it’s going to be a major conflict similar to a 1920s war.” Professor Kwon explained that China is not interested in injecting their influence around the world other than in East Asia. However, China does want to expand its economic power around the world, especially in Africa. “The U.S. has military alliances with 58 countries. China has only one; North Korea.”
There is some good news coming from the attention China is receiving as it negotiates new trade agreements with the United States. China, a member of the Paris Agreement, is actively working to reduce pollution. One way is by controlling the purchase of cars by putting limits on purchases, and working to expand where people live and work by building mega cities all over the country to entice people to relocate there and ease congestion in its larger more densely population cities like Shanghai and Beijing. And as it pertains to its relationship with North Korea, Kwon says, “China is nervous about North Korea drifting away from them and forming a relationship with Trump. China wants North Korea to pull back because it’s concerned they are moving too fast to meet with the U.S.”
The recent and third inter-Korean Summit’s focus was the geopolitical landscape and according to Kwon North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. He says, “Security guarantee from the U.S. is the only way North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons and that’s never going to happen.” He adds, “The U.S. goal is to handcuff North Korea. And, North Korea is scared. They feel threatened.” As it pertains to unification, Kwon says it would mean the collapse of North Korea unless it’s a very slow process of unifying the two Korea’s. He says part of the problem has to do with pathological nationalism. “North Koreans have been brain washed by pathological nationalism. They are brainwashed to worship their leader and blame the U.S. for their economic hardships.” Regardless of the views held from either side of the geopolitical landscape on the future of U.S.-Sino relations, it’s safe to surmise; China’s time as the world’s number one super power will come.