China cannot balance compromise, provocation in its policy toward U.S.

China’s recent moves to seek ways to improve relations with the United States have been conspicuous. However, if China continues to threaten Taiwan and others with its military power, the situation is unlikely to improve.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Joe Biden in telephone talks in September that the two countries should “bring relations back to the right track of stable development as soon as possible.” In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Xi said that China will stop exporting new coal-fired power plants abroad.

The suspension of exports in response to U.S. requests could be interpreted as China’s way of showing the world that it can cooperate with the United States to tackle climate change.

The issue of Meng Wanzhou, deputy chairwoman of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co., who was under house arrest in Canada, has also been resolved. It had been seen as a symbolic issue of the U.S.-China confrontation. Meng returned to China for the first time in about three years after she agreed to a legal settlement with U.S. authorities.

China has agreed to maintain dialogue between military authorities of the two countries, and arrangements are being made to realize a face-to-face summit meeting between the two leaders.

Why has China shifted its rigid hard-line stance?

Xi is determined to continue as the country’s supreme leader at the Communist Party convention next autumn. He apparently wants to avoid losing control of the conflict so that “the worst U.S.-China relationship in history” does not serve as an excuse to criticize Xi within the party.

The Beijing Winter Olympics will be held in February next year. The United States and European nations are considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games by not sending government delegates on the grounds of China’s human rights abuses of the Uighur ethnic minority.

Xi may believe that a certain degree of improvement in relations with the United States is necessary for the success of the Olympics.

Although the United States intends to compete with China in the military and technological fields, it has also emphasized a need to cooperate with China in dealing with such issues as measures against climate change and infectious diseases. It is important for Biden and Xi to sit down and deepen their communication.

On the other hand, China has not stopped its military provocations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and its suppression of human rights in Hong Kong, among other places. Since the beginning of this month, a number of Chinese aircraft have been intensively entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, staging a continuing, unprecedented show of intimidation.

The establishment of AUKUS, a new framework for security cooperation involving the United States, Britain and Australia, and the enhancement of close cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia and India through the Quad are intended to address these situations.

Xi must be aware that China’s behavior to disregard the rule of law and universal values has led to increased pressure on the country.

The new administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida needs to work with the United States to strengthen deterrence against China. Japan also must make its position clear that China’s threat to Taiwan undermines regional stability and cannot be overlooked.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 7, 2021.