Sino-US decoupling took its most prominent global stage to date when Donald Trump and Xi Jinping brought their virus row and trade tensions to the 75th United Nations General Assembly. “We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world, China,” said Trump. This article is a summary of major news items concerning China US relations in September 2020.
“Any attempt of politicising the issue or stigmatisation must be rejected,” said Xi, also by pre-recorded video, who urged countries to respect the WTO and not bury their heads in the sand “like an ostrich” to avoid globalisation. “We are moving in a very dangerous direction,” warned António Guterres, the UN secretary general. “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fraction, each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.”
Yet exactly such splitting continued throughout the month. In the digital war, Beijing countered the US Clean Network effort, to ringfence networks of like-minded allies from Chinese technology, with its own initiative to set global standards on data security. China’s recent actions around the world were those of a “lawless bully”, not a responsible global actor, said the top US diplomat for East Asia. As the latest sanctions against Huawei took effect, multiple chipmakers applied for waivers.
The WTO found that the US government breached global trading rules with multibillion-dollar tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China. Investment between the world’s two largest economies hit a 9-year low in H1, and negotiations continued over the TikTok ownership deal.
US officials prepared orders to block imports of cotton, tomato products and five other imports from Xinjiang over accusations of forced labour. Their phase one trade deal seemed to remain on track, as Beijing continued to buy more US farm goods and Trump needs the deal for his re-election, claimed the Global Times. Typhoons and flooding may force more Chinese purchases of US corn.
China’s third aircraft carrier is taking shape with ambitions to challenge US naval dominance. Calling China its top security threat, the US defence chief outlined plans for a larger, “more lethal” navy. The Pentagon warned of China’s “staggering” amounts of new military hardware, including a doubling of its arsenal of nuclear warheads over the next decade as the PLA races to become a “world-class” force. China has already achieved parity with – or exceeded – the USA in several modernisation areas.
China’s military is enhancing its readiness to prevent Taiwanese independence – and invade if needed, said the US. Recent visits, agreements, US diplomatic support and military sales to Taipei indicate a US “adjustment” in response to increased Chinese aggression, said a top US diplomat. As Washington prepared to sell Taiwan as many as seven major weapons systems, worth $7bn, a US diplomat arrived in Taiwan for the second visit by a high-level American official in two months.
Beijing accused Washington of violating human rights after the US confirmed it has since June revoked more than 1,000 visas of Chinese nationals deemed security risks. The US will require senior Chinese diplomats to get State Department approval before visiting universities or holding certain events. Mike Pompeo hoped that Chinese Confucius Institute cultural centres on US campuses would all be shut down by the end of the year.