China must refrain from threats to prevent unexpected clash with U.S.

China’s continued aggressive maritime expansion and threats against Taiwan that challenge the U.S.-led international order are unlikely to change for the time being. At the very least, it is necessary to take concrete measures to prevent a confrontation between the United States and China from leading to an unforeseen clash.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks online.

Biden stressed that U.S. and Chinese leaders have a responsibility to prevent competition from developing into a clash. Xi also pointed out the importance of the two countries working together to build a stable relationship.

Their remarks can be seen as a reflection of the fact that the competition for hegemony between the United States and China is quite intense and tensions are mounting.

In the latest round of talks, they again could not bridge the gap over the Taiwan situation, China’s human rights violations and its unfair trade practices.

Bearing in mind China’s escalating military provocations around the Taiwan Strait, Biden clearly stated that the United States “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo.”

In response, Xi claimed that “the attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for U.S. support for their independence” is the cause of the mounting tensions. He also reportedly mentioned “resolute measures” if this issue crosses a red line, hinting at China’s possible use of force to unify Taiwan.

This hardly suggests that China is serious about improving relations with the United States. If China does not exercise restraint in its unilateral efforts to change the status quo, including in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, it will not be able to dispel the distrust of other countries.

It is wise for the United States to make efforts to maintain the international order through strengthening ties with Japan, Europe, India and Australia, among others. Cooperation with China is necessary to tackle climate change and measures against infectious diseases, but compromises that undermine the rules-based international system and universal values such as human rights are unacceptable.

While avoiding a decisive confrontation with the United States, Xi has maintained a policy of aiming to make China a military, economic and technological power on par with the United States.

Even if Xi calls for cooperation with the United States, his true intention must be to demonstrate domestically that he is in control of relations with the United States and to buy time for China to improve its national strength to compete with the United States.

China has been taking a more inward-looking stance in the run-up to next autumn’s Communist Party congress, which will further entrench Xi’s long-term rule. Xi has not traveled abroad for nearly two years.

If leaders of other countries have few opportunities to communicate directly with Xi, the entire global situation could become unstable. Xi should resume his diplomacy in a full-fledged manner and fulfill his responsibilities as a leader of a major power.

Japan must step up its efforts to maintain peace in the region on the assumption that the tensions between the United States and China will continue.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 17, 2021.