The Chinese state publication Global Times has published two editorials appearing to use the defeat of the Republican-supported American Health Care Act (AHCA) to push a “weakened” President Donald Trump into a compromising state of mind before his in-person meeting with President Xi Jinping in April.
Calling the defeat of the act, a project spearheaded by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), a “humiliating moment for U.S. President Trump,” the Times asks in a column published Sunday whether China is ready to “deal with a ‘weak’ U.S. president – tough in words but slow in deed” in the near future.
The Times concedes that “it is a tough task to be president of a divided America,” but offers little other support for Trump, instead appearing to revel in highlighting the “bitter failure” of the health care bill.
“It is time that China has more leverage to deal with challenges coming from the U.S. and more responsibilities are placed on China to further advance this relationship,” the Times argues. “Given the scope and sheer amount of problems between the two, it tests China’s diplomatic wisdom to manage both their commonalities and differences. The U.S. has a different political climate now from it used to have, and we need to be more patient with Trump.”
On Monday, the Global Times published a second column on the health care bill that appears dismiss the loss of political capital that the bill allegedly represents. “The healthcare debacle shows Trump’s political inexperience, but his domestic agenda failures could lead to achievements in diplomacy, so a breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula issue and China-US relations could materialize,” an expert identified as “Diao Daming, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,” told the Times.
This article appeared to encourage Chinese officials to use the health care loss to encourage Washington to adopt China’s proposed strategy for containing an increasingly erratic North Korea, which would include ending joint military exercises with South Korea and abandoning the implementation of an anti-missile system that can reach into China as well as North Korea.
While the article does not mention the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, THAAD has been a point of contention between Beijing and Washington since Seoul agreed to have it installed on South Korean territory. The system can easily intercept any missile attack from the north, and both the United States and South Korea’s defense officials appear to agree that such a move is necessary. North Korea attempted its latest missile launch towards Japan last week.
The Global Times article focuses not only on the potential to use Trump’s allegedly diminished political capital to coerce agreement on North Korea but to dismiss the idea that Trump has lost any political capital in China at all. “The Chinese people don’t even care about healthcare in China, much less healthcare in the U.S.,” the article quotes an unnamed Beijing resident as saying.
The Global Times has developed a reputation for being the most belligerent of the English-language Chinese state publications, predicting war with the United States on a semi-regular basis. That its pages appear to be encouraging diplomacy currently may be interpreted as a sign that Beijing believes it would have the upper hand in negotiations currently – or, at least, wants to give that impression.
The last time President Xi spoke to President Trump, China walked away with a major diplomatic victory: Trump reportedly promised Xi to adhere to the “One China” principle, which denies Taiwan its sovereignty. Trump had previously argued that One China, like any other policy, was negotiable following an unprecedented phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Xi’s government media appear to be setting the table of another such victory when Xi arrives at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in April. The two presidents will reportedly discuss “trade policies, Xi’s military buildup in the South China Sea, and the ongoing disruptions in North Korea.” The Trump administration has been vocal in demanding China act against North Korea’s increasingly frequent attempts to launch rockets at its neighbors, but it has not acted to contain China’s colonization of Philippine, Vietnamese, and other territories in the South China Sea.
Vice President Mike Pence will also follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to China for an official visit in April.
During the last interaction between Xi and a high-ranking U.S. official, Tillerson, the Chinese government expressed its gratitude to the top diplomat for using the Chinese Communist Party language of “win-win cooperation” in front of reporters to describe an ideal bilateral relationship. In private, however, reports alleged that Tillerson demanded China act to contain North Korea; China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and a vital lifeline for an otherwise nearly completely isolated government.
Since Tillerson returned to the United States, the Chinese government has opened another diplomatic front long since closed by the Obama administration: an illegally-designated Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over Japanese territory in the East China Sea. In 2013, China set an ADIZ over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, demanding Japanese aircraft identify itself to Beijing whenever it entered the Japanese airspace over the uninhabited islands.
China threatened to attack Japanese jets who defied the order but ultimately failed to enforce the ADIZ after President Obama delivered a speech noting that any physical confrontation against a Japanese aircraft would trigger treaty obligations for the United States to attack China.
Last week, three years after Obama’s remarks, China Foreign Ministry resurrected the ADIZ dispute.
China claims the Senkaku Islands – resource-rich but uninhabited rock formations within Japan’s exclusive economic zone – as its own and established an ADIZ over them in 2013. The ADIZ requires that any aircraft flying over the Diaoyu, as China calls them, identify itself to Beijing. This would require Japanese planes flying in Japanese airspace to keep China informed of their whereabouts at all times, something Tokyo has called “totally unacceptable” and the Obama administration vowed to dismiss as illegal.
The Chinese military warned an American bomber flying within the ADIZ Sunday – present in the region to participate in joint exercises with the South Korean military – to identify itself as the ADIZ requires. CNN reports that the Chinese military told the pilots of the American aircraft that “they were illegally operating in Chinese airspace” and demanded they leave. “It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state to demarcate ADIZs. The US, who also has its ADIZs, should respect the right of other countries to establish ADIZs,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, referring to an incident in which China demanded U.S. aircraft identify themselves (they refused).