Xi’s Washington Visit: The South China Sea Factor

Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the U.S. comes at a time of friction between Beijing and Washington. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the U.S. comes at a time of friction between Beijing and Washington. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is currently stateside and he’s due for important – if not strained talks – at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama later in the week.

Among a collection of prickly issues to be discussed between the two leaders is Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Robert Kaplan, Center for a New American Security senior fellow, says that Xi’s main goal will be to have the U.S. partly comply with Beijing’s objectives in the South China Sea.

“That won’t be the way it’s announced in the summit. Summits all have to do with a shopping list of things they agree to, a lot of picture taking, but that’s really the Chinese goal,” Kaplan told Bloomberg

The heavily contested South China Sea is a key international trade route and it’s rich in natural resources. Beijing claims around 90 per cent of it as its own territory. Over the past several years, the PLA has been busy turning atolls into islands capable of being militarized.

For a funny but serious look at an aspect of the South China Sea issue see this episode of China Uncensored below:

Kaplan described Beijing’s strategy in the contested area.

“Chinese have a classic Sun Tzu philosophy of incremental steps so that if they take small steps all the time to increasingly project their power in the blue water extensions of their continental land mass – that being the South and East China Seas because it’s small steps the Americans and their allies will not be able to respond in a strong fashion because they will seem to be overreacting,” Kaplan said.

“And that’s what makes China’s approach so infuriating from the Americans, the Vietnamese, the Malaysian, etc. point of view.”

Because there are sea and air platforms in close proximity, Kaplan said that there is always the risk of an incident that spirals out of hand. He added that a military conflict in the South East China Sea would affect world markets much more than any conflict in the Middle East so far.

“In the South East China Sea, we’re dealing with some big world economies. Japan, China, and other consequential demographic economic states,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan believed that there might be some progress between the two leaders but added that when countries like Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines hear the Obama administration talking about climate change with China, they get very nervous.

“They want to hear the United States talk about geopolitics, not about climate change. You know, to talk about climate change incessantly the way the Obama administration does, is basically inferentially saying that geopolitics matters less,” he said.

“Whereas these countries in the region, geopolitics is everything because their geographies are not as favorable as that of the United States.”

Also top of U.S. concerns to be discussed by the two leaders are Chinese government and military cyberattacks against American interests.

Obama has been under increasing pressure — from Congress, parts of the U.S. military and intelligence community — to take a stronger stance against Chinese actions reports AP.

All this is occurring with the backdrop of China’s sick economy and inter-Party turmoil as Xi crackdowns on factional opponents.

In recent weeks, Republican presidency candidates have amplified the American public’s view that China is also an economic menace and over concerns about the communist regime’s ongoing human rights abuses.

See this video below about American concerns over human rights in China:

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