On GPS: The future of US-China relations

Former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell breaks down the factions and relationships shaping US-China relations.

Posted: Nov 18, 2018 7:19 AM
Updated: Nov 18, 2018 7:31 AM

US and Chinese leaders presented opposing visions for the world in back-to-back speeches at the 2018 APEC conference in Papua New Guinea on Saturday, amid rising tensions between the world's two major powers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of the need for global cooperation and international trade, telling the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit there was no issue that countries couldn't work out "through consultation."

"History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, will produce no winners," Xi said to applause.

But US Vice President Mike Pence, speaking after the Chinese leader, said while they had "great respect for President Xi" and China, there would be no backing down on the trade war with Beijing until it "changes its ways."

"China has taken advantage of the United States for many, many years and those days are over," he told the meeting of world leaders.

US President Donald Trump has placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese goods in retaliation for what he views as unfair trades practices by Beijing.

Trade talks between the two countries have resumed with hopes for a resolution to the accelerating trade war. Beijing made an initial offer to Trump earlier this week, which the US President said was "very complete."

But tensions between the United States and China have spread beyond economic issues and into political and military areas, including a concerted push back by the US military against Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

In his speech Saturday, Pence announced the United States would be building a military base in Papua New Guinea, in cooperation with Australia, further entrenching Washington's military presence in Asia and the Pacific.

"We will work with these two nations to protect sovereignty and maritime rights in the Pacific Islands," he said in his speech.

Both Xi and Pence were pushing a strong message of solidarity with the leaders of Pacific Island nations, with whom the Chinese leader met one-on-one during his first full day in the country Friday.

In his speech, Xi said the world needed to "draw upon each other's strengths and pursue coexistence," rather than criticize other countries' domestic choices.

"We should reject arrogance and prejudice, be respectful and inclusive toward others, and embrace the diversity of our world," he said.

It comes as Beijing is facing increasingly stern criticism from countries around the world for the Chinese government's crackdown in Xinjiang province, which has reportedly seen at least 1 million Muslim-majority Uyghur people locked up in "re-education camps."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted fiercely to reports that 15 Western diplomats in Beijing were preparing a draft letter demanding an explanation for the crackdown Thursday.

"I don't know why they are worrying about Xinjiang's situation. Why did they make this kind of request that puts pressure on China? I think this kind of action is very unreasonable," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

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