What’s Beijing’s regional strategy in 2017, how should Washington respond, and where did the Xi-Trump summit fit in?
Looking back at Beijing’s official public statements and Chinese media’s commentaries during 2016, it seems that China had a lot to be gratified about. Beijing largely believes that it made significant progress in the strategic approach to reinforce and strengthen its rising regional (and growing international) role, as evident by the January 2017 release of a policy paper outlining its updated foreign policies on “Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation” as well as one white paper and two strategies on the interlinked and contested global commons of space and cyberspace: China Space Activities in 2016 (December 2016), China’s National Cyberspace Security Strategy (December 2016), and China’s International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation (March 2017).
At the end of 2016, China felt confident that it had: shrewdly diminished the South China Sea (SCS) ruling by the International Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and successfully courted the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally; complicated the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea, another U.S. treaty ally, and the more threatening Washington-Seoul-Tokyo trilateral alliance; marginalized the independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen’s administration in Taiwan; lessened American preeminence in the region without destabilizing the all-important strategic U.S.-China bilateral relationship; and most importantly, set the strategic conditions for a more robust global role in international affairs in 2017 and beyond.
The just concluded Xi-Trump summit was the latest strategic signaling to the world that Beijing has abandoned its long-standing state policy of “hide one’s capabilities and bide one’s time” (the strategy of a weak nation) and will now assume its rightful place on the world stage as a destined global power. China is unquestionably a confident economic juggernaut and rising global power, able to manifest its own national destiny (the “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation) and dictate increasing power and influence across the interlinked and contested global commons, and thus wants to be treated accordingly. The heavily choreographed summit seems more about visuals than about substance as evident by President Xi Jinping’s protocol demands prior to the summit and President Donald Trump’s decision to launch strikes against Syria during the summit. The summit itself apparently did not yield any concrete accomplishments beyond the pledges of increased cooperation and new frameworks for dialogue. With the symbolism of a successful meeting out of the way, where do U.S.-China relations go from here?