China US Relations at Worst Point for Decades

Bilateral relations appear at their worst for decades. Diplomats at China’s Houston consulate burned documents into the night after the US gave China 72 hours to close “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information”. Beijing then ordered the US shut its consulate in Chengdu, southwest China. This article is a summary of important US China news in July 2020.

Amid the heated rhetoric, and continued decoupling, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told his French counterpart he blames the turmoil on the US – “Such behaviour is stark power politics that can be captured by one word: hegemony.” Earlier in the month he had called for reconciliation, and suggested three lists to identify and resolve disputes.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angered Beijing and the World Health Organisation by telling British lawmakers China had “bought” the WHO head. In the fourth speech in a month critical of Beijing from a top US official, he called on China’s citizens to join an international effort to “change the behaviour” of their government.

By the end of June, Beijing had bought about 23% of the total purchase target for US goods in 2020, according to Bloomberg, meaning China needs to buy about $130 billion in the rest of the year to comply with the agreement. Trade negotiators from both sides may hold formal talks in August. One bizarre development was the mystery seeds being posted to US households.

The short video app TikTok is now undergoing a national security review by US federal regulators, and US senators appealed to the Justice Department to investigate TikTok and video conferencing tool Zoom for their ties to Beijing. . US Attorney General William Barr warned US businesses including Disney and Apple they have to disclose links to China

As more than 100 US diplomats and family members flew to China, on the second of many flights required to return over 1,200 personnel, their employer warned US citizens living in or travelling to China that they may face arbitrary arrest. The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the US by members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families, who may total 270 million citizens.

The administration also barred senior Chinese officials from entering the US due to China’s treatment of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, “human rights abuses” in Tibet, and because Beijing obstructs travel to Tibet by US diplomats, journalists and tourists. 

Secretary of State Pompeo said Beijing passing the national security law for Hong Kong was a “sad day for Hong Kong and for freedom-loving people across China”, and promised that Washington will not stand idly by. President Trump subsequently took two actions against China due to Hong Kong’s national security law: an executive order ending preferential trade treatment, and enacting a sanctions bill. The US also hardened its stance over the South China Sea, where jet fighters from two US aircraft carriers put on one of Washington’s biggest displays of naval power.

China plans to equal US naval strength in the Pacific. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the US is equipping its forces across Asia for a possible confrontation with China, yet he still hopes to visit China this year to improve “crisis communications” channels. The FBI Director warned that China seeks to become the world’s only superpower, with a government-directed “campaign of theft and malign influence”

“As I watch the Pandemic spread its ugly face all across the world, including the tremendous damage it has done to the USA, I become more and more angry at China,” Trump Tweeted. Behind the rhetoric, and tit-for-tat threats over media outlets and officials, the feud is quietly getting nasty with red tape as the weapon. The two sides are exchanging regulatory punches that threaten a wide range of industries, warned the US Chamber of Commerce. And Beijing warned Washington that US pressure over “red lines”, matters China considers off limits, could jeopardise trade deal purchases of farm goods and other US exports.

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