OPINION | The Chinese Game with Pyongyang Trump Card
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OPINION | The Chinese Game with Pyongyang Trump Card

By Dr. Shahrouz Shariati 
Assistant Professor of Political Science; Tarbiat Modarres University via IranReview.org

OPINION | The Chinese Game with Pyongyang Trump Card

Image Attribute: U.S. President Donald J.Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping, April 2017 / Source: Wikimedia Commons

During the past two decades, relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States have gone through many ups and downs. Although Washington has consistently had the upper hand in these relations up to the present time, it seems that the United States is rapidly losing its chances in the face of global rivals since Donald Trump has become president. Therefore, if the current trend continues, it will gradually have to get ready for peaceful transfer of power to the next superpower after 2020. According to the available evidence, the next superpower is a country which is considered as the “other” in terms of its civilization but has been able through its mysterious rationality and by taking good advantage of international crises to become as much similar to the rival civilization as possible. At the same time, it has been able to introduce itself to the world as a country, which supports peace and tranquility and rationality by adopting “peaceful rise” as its motto and also through the establishment of “Confucius schools.”

From this viewpoint, understanding the behavior and the quality of China’s international interactions with the United States over the next decades will require a correct understanding of issues that are “stabilizing” for the Chinese society. This is especially true because, under the present circumstances, the Chinese society strongly rejects anything that is detrimental to the country’s’ national interests and its public opinion believes that all obstacles to the realization of the country’s national interests must be shattered or overcome. From this standpoint, economic development in addition to maintaining sovereignty and unity of China are the most basic of the country’s national interests and the government in Beijing has been continuously trying to maximize those interests through subtle policies.

This comes under conditions that the United States has to single-handedly deal with the geopolitical and meta-geopolitical costs of the prevalence of terrorism and proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world. In the meantime, escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea can provide the leaders in Beijing with a new opportunity to make the most of the current turbulence in international relations and settle another part of scores between this country and the United States, especially with regard to Taiwan. A review of positions adopted by China’s state-run press on the crisis in the Korean Peninsula proves that China has been emphasizing on the United States’ inability to resolve the Korean crisis through military means while asking both sides in an outwardly sympathetic position to return to negotiations, which have been stalled since 2008. At the same time, it is waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of a possible military faceoff between Pyongyang and Washington, which will most probably have uncontrollable consequences, to boost its own international prestige.

Despite the combination of cooperation and rivalry between the United States and China in such areas as economy, security, cyberspace, environment and so forth, it seems that China must be the main concern of the United States under Trump’s administration. This is especially true taking into account that during recent years, China has been able to rapidly get closer to the United States in terms of most indexes and figures related to its economic and military development. The gradual expansion of China’s economy in comparison to the American economy proves that China cannot be expected to remain impartial and inattentive with regard to strategic issues of the world, especially developments taking place close to its border. Therefore, China can be considered as the biggest headache for the United States in the 21st century and true dimensions of this problem will show themselves under the administration of Donald Trump.

A review of China’s positions on North Korea will show that Beijing is using Pyongyang as a Trump card to get concessions from its powerful eastern neighbors all of whom are considered as US allies. In doing so, China will not easily lose this card and will try through its double-standard policy to use this opportunity to mount pressure on and take concessions from the two sides that have been locking horns in the current dispute over nuclear issues. At least for Iranians, this measure is a reminder of the bitter memories and loss of a large part of the country’s resources and opportunities during nuclear negotiations with big powers. In better words, if China’s behavior in nuclear negotiations with Iran is to be considered as a measure for comparison, it is conceivable that the leaders in Beijing will try to deceive both the leaders of North Korea and the United States, as two countries involved in this dispute, through their misleading gestures and fake smiles. At the same time, they will take advantage of their sharp positions against each of the two countries to take concession from the other side in a way that neither American nor North Korean leaders would seriously doubt China’s goodwill in this regard. Establishing control over some unpopulated but strategic islands in South China Sea while incurring military costs on the United States and its allies through an unconstructive faceoff with North Korea, whose sole winner will be China, can be considered among the least goals, which Beijing is expected to achieve by keeping the United States occupied with North Korea.  

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

The article was originally published at IranReview.org on April 24, 2017.
Republished at IndraStra with permission. All rights reserved by the Iran Review.