China’s New Leadership Lineup Shows Focus on US-China Relations - Analysts

© AP Photo / Andrew HarnikChina's flag is displayed next to the American flag on the side of the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington (File)
China's flag is displayed next to the American flag on the side of the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington (File) - Sputnik International
MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang - New lineup of Chinese leadership, unveiled during the country’s annual legislative session known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), which concluded on Tuesday, demonstrated China’s pivot toward a stronger foreign policy, especially when dealing with conflicts with the United States, experts told Sputnik.

Wang Qishan served as China’s top anti-corruption official during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first term in office, when the overwhelming anti-graft campaign helped Xi remove influential Chinese officials installed by previous Chinese leaders and consolidate his grip on power. The 69-year-old Chinese official was forced to retire from the powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) last October, following an unwritten rule on age limit of top Chinese officials in the PBSC.

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Wang, often viewed as Xi’s right-hand man with a reputation as being a "firefighter" who is good at handling crises, resurrected his political career on Saturday, when he was elevated as the vice president of China during the NPC. Unlike previous Chinese vice presidents who played mostly ceremonial roles in the Chinese political system, Wang, who served many years as China’s top economic negotiator with the United States, is expected to continue to play the role of Xi’s most important ally and be responsible for key issues, such as China’s foreign policy.

Prioritize Foreign Policy

Wang’s resurgence along with the elevation of other key officials with rich experience in foreign policy, such as Foreign Minister Wang Yi being promoted as a State Councilor and Harvard-educated economist being named Vice Premier, indicated that Xi’s new administration is ready for a stronger push in foreign affairs, especially when handling the turbulent US-China relations, political analysts suggested.

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"The new Chinese leadership lineup showed the new administration’s special attention on foreign policy, especially US-China relations, because Wang Qishan’s re-elevation as the vice president means he will probably be in charge of dealing with foreign affairs. Wang Yi, who will continue to be the foreign minister, has also been elevated as one of the state councilors. This arrangement is very clear. Xi’s so-called ‘Chinese Dream,’ the nation’s ‘Great Revival’ or a ‘New Era,’ it is all closely related to China’s foreign policy and the global environment," Xu Guoqi, a professor specializing in US-China relations at Hong Kong University, told Sputnik.

Unlike previous low-key foreign policy under late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, whose famous quote of "Tao Guang Yang Hui" stressed on hiding China’s strength, Chinese officials today no longer have to keep a low profile on the global stage, because they have more leverage than before, the Hong Kong-based expert argued.

"I believe China would no longer follow the policy of ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui’ anymore. Xi will not maintain the kind of patience and tolerance time after time like before. When dealing with the United States, China has a lot more countermeasures today, such as canceling economic, military and cultural exchanges. Unlike the situation in the 1990s, Beijing has a lot more cards in its hands today," Xu said.

The expert pointed out that China could retaliate with punitive tariffs on major US exports to China such as soybeans or airplanes, if the US administration decides to escalate trade tensions with Beijing by introducing new stiff tariffs.

Taiwan Could Become Casualty

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed the controversial Taiwan Travel Act into law, which would allow high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States under conditions of appropriate respect and meet with relevant US officials. The Chinese Foreign Ministry protested the new US bill strongly, calling it a violation of the "One China Policy" agreed by both sides.

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During his closing speech at the NPC, Xi vowed to protect "every inch of our great motherland’s territory", adding that all acts and tricks to split the motherland are doomed to failure and will be condemned by the people and punished by history.

Professor Xu from Hong Kong University believes that the Taiwan issue could become a tipping point in US-China relations.

"Bilateral relations between China and the United States face a key test this year, because of the new Taiwan Travel Act. This new US bill is almost like a crater of a volcano waiting to erupt. The foundation of US-China relations is built on the Three Joint Communiques [through which both nations agreed to respect each other’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity]. The Taiwan Travel Act destroyed the US pledge to the ‘One China Policy’ from a legal stand point. Any time a Taiwan official visits the United States or a US official visits Taiwan, it would shake the foundation of US-China relations," Xu said.

After the Chinese civil war in 1949, the nationalist government retreated to Taiwan and invention from the US Seventh Fleet prevented the island from coming under direct control of China’s ruling communist party. After the United States and the communist government in China normalized relations in the 1970s, the US government promised to adhere to the "One China Policy" which recognizes Taiwan as a part of China.

The Hong Kong-based scholar suggested that Taiwan could become a casualty amid ongoing tensions between China and the United States.

"On the Taiwan issue, China’s policy position has never changed from the Mao Era to the Deng Era, until today. My impression is that this could offer Beijing an opportunity to reveal its own hardline policy. If Trump wants to use Taiwan as a pawn, China could take this chance to resolve the Taiwan issue once and for all through military actions. Beijing could cut Taiwan off completely just like the United States did with Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Taiwan would probably pay a hefty price amid deteriorating US-China relations," Xu said.

Xu noted that China conducted live missile drills in the Taiwan Strait when then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visited the United States in 1995.

Trump's Bargaining Chip

However, Taiwan-based scholars predicted that it was unlikely for Beijing to take substantial actions in response to the new Taiwan Travel Act, because it remains to be seen how the new bill will be executed by the United States.

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"After the Taiwan Travel Act was approved, we need to see which US official is going to visit Taiwan in the future. For example, the Clinton Administration introduced eight adjustments in the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review, which allowed US officials in charge of economic and technological fields to visit Taiwan. But in the end, none of the top US officials came to Taiwan. Current US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao attended elementary school in Taiwan. An official with such strong connections with Taiwan [Chao] has never visited [Taiwan]. How can we expect other top US officials to visit Taiwan?" Yen Chenshen, a researcher at the Institute of International relations, National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told Sputnik.

The Taiwan expert expects the Trump Administration to use the Taiwan Travel Act purely as leverage against China.

"The new US bill will only give Trump a bargaining chip when negotiating with China. He could just keep this as a backup tool. When relations with China deteriorate, Trump could send an official here. Before the bill is executed, it is difficult for China to take actions. It is also unfair to use this bill to punish Taiwan, because it is the United States passed," Yen said.

The Taiwan scholar believes Chinese leaders have not lost their patience in resolving the Taiwan issue through peaceful means.

"I think Xi has not lost his patience. According to the latest public opinion survey in Taiwan, despite more people started to recognize the identity as being a Taiwanese, the number of those who are against independence has also increased. Slowly, with more and more beneficial policies from China, the younger generations’ opinions may start to change in Taiwan. As long as this happens, Xi could believe that the policies are working and he does not have to use the military option to unite Taiwan," Yen noted.

The expert added that after removing the presidential terms in the Chinese constitution, Xi looked to be in firm control in China, which gives him no reason to initiate a war against Taiwan as a power struggle tool to demonstrate his strength.

The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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