The View From Asia

Washington-Beijing trade tensions not letting up

Asia News Network writers examine the likely causes and consequences. Here are excerpts.

China's hope: US meets it halfway

Editorial

China Daily, China

The US administration has made it clear on more than one occasion that it wants to halt China's development in its tracks and therefore it is questionable whether the US has any real interest in striking a trade deal that is not tilted entirely to its advantage.

Beijing, on its part, has consistently responded to Washington by giving it a sharp rap across the knuckles. That China has responded to the US trade aggression in such a restrained manner should not be viewed as weakness.

China agreed to hold trade talks with the US because it genuinely believes that dialogue is the best way for countries to resolve their differences and because, as a responsible country, it always keeps the bigger picture and longer time frame in mind.

The US seems to take it for granted that tariffs are a weapon it can employ to bring China to its knees, apparently ignorant that China is not what it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the country was forced into signing humiliating treaties, which resulted in the opening of trading ports and paying of indemnities to Western powers.

Perhaps the blame for the breakdown in talks should be laid at the door of the mindset of the West, which sees only winners and losers.


China recently announced higher tariffs on US$60 billion (S$82.1 billion) worth of American goods, in retaliation against US levy increases on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

That Eastern viewpoint explains why China still hopes that the US will meet it halfway for the benefit of both countries as well as the development of the world economy.

No winner in a trade war Editorial

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The intensifying US-China conflict will stagnate the flow of global trade and investment, and invite market instability. These two countries, which both lead the world, need to immediately put an end to the critical situation through dialogue.

The United States and China are economically in a close relationship. They must mutually realise that there is no winner in a trade war.

The trade negotiations are rough because Washington and Beijing are also in a battle over supremacy in advanced technologies and security.

Particularly regarding the strengthening of the high-tech industry, Beijing probably cannot accede to US demands because it is connected to the development of military technology.

However, China is already the world's second largest economy. It has a responsibility to create an environment for fair competition within the country and open its market. Just because China will not stop conducting unfair practicesshould never mean the US is also allowed to ignore international rules. If the US makes light of the free trade system, which Washington itself has taken the lead in building up, the flow of goods and money will dwindle, and the US economy will be damaged.

Japan must pay close attention to how the US-China talks unfold. It is feared that Washington may strongly demand concessions from Tokyo by wielding punitive tariffs also in the Japan-US trade negotiations.

Thailand's pendulum swings

Editorial

The Nation, Thailand

In terms of geography, culture and geopolitics, Bangkok is indisputably closer in proximity to Beijing than Washington.

Admirers of the United States say Washington's frequent criticisms of Thailand's faltering commitment to democracy have forced Bangkok into the arms of its alternative friend to the north.

Detractors of the US say Washington has pushed too hard and crossed a line.

There's a crucial distinction between "leaning towards" China and "being pushed towards" China.

The first suggests Bangkok is willingly cultivating political, economic and cultural bonds with Beijing - and that America can do little about that.

"Being pushed" implies that Washington's own behaviour or perhaps domestic sentiments are to blame.

Either way, the irony is obvious.

In the 1970s, the Communist Party of Thailand, with clear enough links to Mao Zedong's ruling revolutionaries, forcibly if inadvertently, pushed Thailand closer to the US.

Those were the days when Thai student activists despised America for its aggressive interventions in Indochina and elsewhere in the world and for its capitalism-driven hypocrisy with regard to democracy.

The dictatorial Thai government of the day sought Washington's help in countering the militant domestic threat posed by armed leftist students.

Many of those same insurrectionists gradually came to adopt a far more conservative ideology under the reformist regime of Thaksin Shinawatra, by which they can now regard America's shortcomings as at least preferable to China's abject silence over the authoritarian rule of Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The Thai establishment, meanwhile, has also shifted position, warming to Beijing's style of maintaining an absolute grip on society and eschewing America's incessant diplomatic meddling.

The foreign affairs policies of Beijing and Washington are markedly different while this pendulum swing is occurring.

China in recent years has opted to sit back and watch, engaging with Thailand only on economic matters, such as with its Belt and Road Initiative.

America, ostensibly principled in constitutional ideals, is eager to place bets on one-half of the Thai populace, to the point of being seen as actively helping the pro-Shinawatra faction.

Whether the US approach is sound or whether it is simply - if unwittingly - pushing Thailand closer to China draws different answers from different people.

The US State Department takes its cues from academics who share ingrained concepts of freedom and democracy without question, while assigning secondary importance to matters of culture, uniqueness and public opinion that run contrary to its own.

China's seeming acceptance of Thai politics-as-is creates an impression among the public here that it is more understanding.

Mr Prayut always seems comfortable meeting President Xi Jinping, and a vast number of Thais support him in his accommodation of Beijing. China is winning this game of influence largely on the back of Thailand's domestic political affiliations, which is unfortunate.

Diplomacy should primarily be based on genuine, mutually respectful cordiality. Our allegiance to one superpower or the other should be based entirely on sincerity that is beyond doubt, not on seeming sincerity.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Washington-Beijing trade tensions not letting up'. Print Edition | Subscribe