Comeback of Xi Jinping's Ally Unlikely to Improve China-US Relations - Analysts

© AP Photo / Ted S. WarrenChinese and US flags. (File)
Chinese and US flags. (File) - Sputnik International
MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The expected revival of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s powerful ally, Wang Qishan, who has expertise in dealing with the United States, is unlikely to significantly improve China-US relations, experts told Sputnik.

The 69-year-old Wang, who helped lead the Chinese president’s sweeping anti-corruption campaign during Xi’s first five years in office, was not included in the country’s new lineup of its core leadership, known as the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) of the Communist Party of China, unveiled during the ruling party’s 19th National Congress last October.

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Wang’s exclusion from the PBSC followed an unwritten rule in the Chinese leadership in recent years, when leaders older than 68 were not expected to hold onto their positions. However, rumors started to circulate late last year that Wang’s political career did not seem to be in jeopardy following his retirement from the PBSC. The powerful ally of Xi is expected to take over the position as the vice president of China during the nation’s annual legislative session of the National People’s Congress in March, the South China Morning Post reported last December.

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When Wang was named among the representatives from Hunan province to take part in the upcoming National People’s Congress on Tuesday, speculations heated up on what kind of role he would take after making a comeback, as the position of vice president serves more of a ceremonial role in China’s political system. Citing multiple unnamed sources, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Wang is expected to be tasked to handle relations with the United States, thanks to his rich experience in dealing with US officials when he chaired the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue as the country’s vice premier.

National Security Issues

Political analysts told Sputnik that Wang’s expertise in handling US-China relations was limited to economic and trade related issues, which are not the primary concerns in bilateral relations between the two nations.

"Before Wang became China’s anti-corruption chief, he represented China in dealings with the United States for many years. But most of those negotiations were focused on economic and trade related issues. If Xi needs his help on those issues, it’s not unexpected. However, there are so many aspects in China-US relations. I think economic and trade issues are becoming less and less important in bilateral relations. The key issues are military and security related issues. Wang never dealt with such issues before. It’s obvious that Xi cannot receive strong assistance from Wang on those issues," Ding Xueliang, a political analyst and a social science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told Sputnik.

The Hong Kong-based scholar pointed out that US President Donald Trump named China as a threat to US national security when he released his first National Security strategy last December.

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"If Trump views as China as a second biggest threat against the United States, behind Russia, he could do a lot of things to hurt Chinese interests. Even if both sides would suffer in such situations, in Trump’s view, damages against China are still way more serious than what the United States may face," Ding said.

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The expert offered some examples on which areas Trump could hurt China’s interests.

"For example, on the Taiwan issue, Trump could offer more advanced weapons to Taiwan, which would put China in a very awkward position, because it’s impossible for Beijing to launch a military attack against Taiwan in response at once. In addition, Trump could also boost Japan’s military strength further, even relaxing US position on nuclear armament of Japan. That would put an enormous amount of pressure on China. There’re a couple of options for China to retaliate. But those options are not enough to match the damages China would experience," Ding said.

Ease Trade Tensions

Following a brief honeymoon period in China-US relations during the early days of Trump’s presidency, when both sides announced a 100-day action plan to address trade disputes between the two nations, the US president grew increasingly hostile against China on trade issues.

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The Trump administration introduced new anti-dumping import tariffs on Chinese solar panels this month. US regulators also blocked a number of acquisition deals by Chinese investors in the United States, including the fail plan of China’s Ant Finance to acquire US money transfer company MoneyGram and Chinese smartphone maker Huawei’s failed deal with major US wireless carrier AT&T.

Amid growing trade tensions between the two nations, Wang’s expertise and familiarity in dealing with US officials could help ease the tensions, Chinese experts suggested.

"If Wang starts to handle China-US relations, he could help ease the conflicts between the two nations. But it’s impossible for him to resolve those issues fundamentally. That’s because one person’s impact is difficult to overhaul bilateral relations. In addition, the final say on China-US relations still belongs to Chinese president Xi," Deng Yuwen, the former deputy editor of the Central Party School's journal Study Times and currently a senior researcher at the Charhar Institute Beijing, told Sputnik.

The Beijing-based scholar noted that the US officials Wang used to work with are no longer in the Trump administration, which could hinder his impact based on previous personal connections.

Indispensable Ally

If Wang indeed starts to hold a key position in the Chinese leadership once again after the National People’s Congress in March, it would prove that he has become an indispensable ally for the Chinese president, Ding, the Hong Kong-based expert, suggested.

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"If Wang indeed becomes the vice president of China, it’s obviously a very special arrangement. It proves that Wang’s experience and his ability to handle crisis makes him an indispensable ally of Chinese president Xi. For Wang to take over such a position, it’s simply because he’s too important. At the same time, Xi couldn’t keep Wang in the PBSC because of his age. To avoid Wang from retiring completely, taking the position of vice president can help him handle foreign policy issues with a legitimate title," the expert said.

Deng, the Beijing-based scholar, explained that Wang’s comeback proved his value to the Chinese president.

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"If Wang takes a key leadership role again, it shows that there is a special bond between Xi and him. In the past five years, Wang helped Xi crushed a lot of tigers [high-ranking corrupted officials], including many of Xi’s political enemies," he said.

Immune to Outside Influence

Following Wang’s retirement from the PBSC last October, some political analysts speculated that corruption allegations against him from a rogue Chinese businessman may have played a role in him not being able to hold onto power, despite being a key ally of the Chinese president.

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Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman who is living in exile in the United States, launched a campaign on Twitter last year, accusing senior Chinese officials, including Wang, of serious corruption. Guo alleged that Guan Jun, a major stakeholder of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, is actually Wang’s out-of-wedlock son.

The widely expected resurrection of Wang’s political career proves that the Chinese Communist Party would never allow outside influence to dictate its leadership structure and key personnel decisions, Ding, the Hong Kong-based scholar, argued.

"I never thought Guo’s allegations would have an impact on Wang’s political career. If any outside allegations like this would influence the key leadership arrangement of Chinese Communist Party, it would seriously hurt the party’s ability to rule. From the first day of the party’s rule in China, it would never allow outside influence to have an impact on its leadership structure," he said.

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The expert added that Wang’s retirement from the PBSC last October simply proved that Chinese president Xi was not powerful enough to break the unwritten tradition of age limits for communist party leaders.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the analysts and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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