Key issues that drive US-China rivalry

AFP , Thursday 15 Jun 2023

Antony Blinken will on Sunday make the first trip to Beijing by a top US diplomat in nearly five years of strained ties between the world's largest economies.

 Virtual meeting between Biden and Xi
File Photo: Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 15, 2021 AP


Here are some of the key issues affecting relations between China and the United States:

Surveillance Threat 

The United States and China spend vast sums on surveillance, with both sides regularly accusing each other of foul play.

The US secretary of state's visit to Beijing had been scheduled to take place in February but was called off when a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted in US airspace, prompting Washington to shoot it down.

China denied the balloon was being used for spying, branding Washington's reaction an excessive use of force.

Last week, a White House official said China has been operating an intelligence unit in Cuba for years and upgraded it in 2019.

Washington has repeatedly said Beijing represents the broadest cybersecurity threat to the US government and private sector.

The United States has gone on the offensive on Chinese-developed technology in recent years, with telecoms behemoth Huawei coming under US sanctions and some lawmakers calling for an outright ban on TikTok over data security fears.

Tech Wars 

The US Department of Commerce has blocked dozens of Chinese companies from acquiring American technology.

Beijing, in turn, accuses Washington of seeking to unfairly suppress Chinese tech companies and thwart its economic rise.

In May, the United States lashed out against China for restricting sales of chips from American giant Micron, the latest move in a feud between the two powers on semiconductors.

Washington had last year imposed sweeping restrictions of its own on China's access to high-end chips.

Taiwan And The Pacific 

Beijing and Washington's competition for influence in the Pacific has picked up speed in recent months, with China growing increasingly angered by what it sees as a US bid to thwart its might.

The most obvious flashpoint is self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory and has vowed to reclaim one day.

While the United States does not recognise Taiwan's claim to sovereignty, it has maintained long-standing defence ties with Taipei.

Tensions hit fever pitch in August 2022, when then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, prompting China to kick off its biggest-ever military drills around the island.

China again staged massive exercises in April this year following a meeting in the United States between Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Chinese and American forces have also had a series of close encounters in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire waterway, ignoring an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

Further eastwards, China and the United States are battling for influence over Pacific island states, with Washington forging a landmark security pact with Papua New Guinea this week to win "unimpeded" access to military bases there.

Beijing signed a secret security pact with Solomon Islands in 2022 and a state-backed company has since won a contract to develop a key port there.

Ukraine And Russia 

China claims it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict and has sought to play a role as a mediator in the war.

But its strategic partnership with Russia, and its refusal to condemn Moscow's invasion, have sparked condemnation from Western allies of Ukraine.

Western countries criticised a proposal issued by Beijing in February to end the war, saying it could in fact enable Moscow to hold much of the territory it has seized.

On the economic front, China is Russia's largest trading partner, with trade between the two giants soaring in May to $20.5 billion, a level not seen since the invasion, according to data from Beijing.

Human ights 

The US government and lawmakers in a number of other Western countries have labelled China's treatment of the Uyghur minority in the far-western region of Xinjiang "genocide", a charge Beijing vehemently denies.

Rights groups say at least one million people, mostly members of Muslim minorities, have been incarcerated in the region and face widespread abuses, including forced sterilisation of women and coerced labour.

China says it is running vocational training centres designed to counter extremism.

The United States has pledged since June 2022 to enforce the landmark Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which bans most imports from Xinjiang.

China's curbs on freedom of assembly and the press in semi-autonomous Hong Kong have also strained ties.

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