In an interview published yesterday, the last British governor of Hong Kong warned that the West “must stop kowtowing to Beijing”, particularly when China’s Communist government flouts international law and agreements. Since the earliest days of the Jiang Zemin era, which saw China transform into an industrialized superpower, Beijing has facetiously talked a good game on economic and political liberalization, but only as a ruse to mollify the West, allowing corporate interests to cement China’s status as a critical component of the global financial and trade system, even if its currency, the yuan, has yet to truly take off as an international currency.
Perhaps inspired by President Trump’s aggression, Beijing has officially dumped these pretenses as President Xi moves to crack down on widespread political dissent in Hong Kong. And in keeping with this newfound posture of aggression, one of China’s most senior foreign policy officials – Foreign Minister Wang Yi – warned on Sunday that the US and its allies should abandon their “wishful thinking” about liberalizing China, while threatening to respond with violence should any foreign government interfere with China’s assertions of sovereignty in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a de facto independent state that Beijing nonetheless views as a rebellious province.
“China has no intention to change the U.S., nor to replace the U.S. It is also wishful thinking for the U.S. to change China,” Wang said Sunday during his annual news briefing on the sidelines of National People’s Congress meetings in Beijing. He also criticized the U.S. for slowing its nuclear negotiations with North Korea and warned it not to cross Beijing’s “red line” on Taiwan.
Many Americans don’t understand the level of resentment Hong Kongers feel toward the Communist government in Beijing. Even many Hong Kongers who assiduously avoid controversy still see Beijing as an oppressor; on the other side of the fence, conservative Communists inside the party have criticized Hong Kong’s ‘poor social foundation’, and advocated for Beijing to take swift action to “correct” this. These clashing attitudes have stirred fears of PLA tanks rolling through the streets of what was once considered a truly “international” city in a bloody re-run of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
As Bloomberg explains, “the U.S.-China relationship has worsened dramatically in the past few months as America became one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The world’s two biggest economies have clashed on a range of issues from trade to human rights, with Beijing’s latest move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong setting up another showdown between U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping.”
Beijing was alarmed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to congratulated Tsai Ing-wen won a second term as Taiwan’s president (a government that Beijing doesn’t recognize, and has effectively shut out from international organizations like the UN, WHO etc.). Since President Nixon met with Mao in the early 70s, kick-starting China’s opening to the world, the US has observed the “One China” policy of respecting Beijing’s view that Taiwan is a part of China. In recent years, Beijing has increasingly used its legal might to punish companies – especially airlines – if they neglected to note that Taiwan and Hong Kong were “part of China” on maps and company websites and official literature.
During his speech, Wang warned the US not to interfere with China’s new National Security law in Hong Kong, while reiterating warnings that the reunification of China and Taiwan is “historically inevitable” and that by meddling in the relationship, the US is risking “a new Cold War”, and perhaps even an armed confrontation.
“Some U.S. political forces are taking hostage of China-U.S. relations, attempting to push the ties to the brink of so-called ‘new Cold War,'” Wang said. “This is dangerous and will endanger global peace.”
Wang cautioned the U.S. “not to challenge China’s red line” on Taiwan, after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo broke with tradition last week and congratulated the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen on her second-term inauguration. Beijing considers Taiwan a province.
“Reunification between the two sides of the Strait is an inevitable trend of history, no one and no force can stop it,” Wang said.
And he blamed Washington for the stall in historic negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea, saying China hoped to see continued interaction between the two sides. The comments came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – who has faced questions about his health – made his first public statement in three weeks, ordering military leaders to increase the country’s “nuclear war deterrence.”
If that’s not enough reason to believe the unraveling of the US-China relationship has passed a point of no return, the US Department of Transportation accused its counterpart in Beijing of making it purposefully difficult for American airlines to resume operations in China. President Trump imposed a ban on Chinese travelers that he has repeatedly praised as a critical component of the administration’s response. Since the beginning, Beijing has criticized these travel restrictions, and is now taking steps to exact its revenge on the US by lashing out at American companies.
Here’s more on that from Bloomberg:
The DOT late on Friday announced that China had violated a bilateral agreement allowing airline service between the two countries by failing to respond to requests by Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc.
China “impaired the operating rights of U.S. carriers and denied them the fair and equal opportunity to exercise their operating rights,” the department said in a notice posted to a government website.
The order stopped short of imposing any restrictions or penalty on the four airlines from China serving U.S. markets, but is a warning after repeated objections by the U.S. failed to get action, the government said. It requires the Chinese carriers to notify the department of their schedules and any proposed changes they intend. China’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
“The department is taking this step because Chinese aviation authorities have imposed restrictions on U.S. carriers that are making it impossible for them to resume passenger services between the US and China and operate those services at levels that they have a right to operate under the U.S.-China air transport agreement,” the department said in a statement on Saturday.
None of the major airlines opted to comment for the Bloomberg story, but given the precarious state of business right now, this is probably one more problem that they don’t need.
United had no comment on the DOT order, spokesman Frank Benenati said in an email. “We look forward to resuming those flights — to the benefit of our customers and communities in the U.S. and China — when the regulatory environment allows us to do so,” he said.
Delta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
At least US airlines – which received some federal bailout money over the objections of some respected investors – can rest assured that the White House is going to bat for them and their bottom line.