On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet US President Barack Obama on the heels of the Nuclear Security Summit, at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing have chilled. The White House is expected to request that China implement additional sanctions against North Korea and negotiate on a range of disputes regarding territories within the South China Sea.
Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down with David Ewing of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association to discuss attempts by the Obama administration to stir internal unrest in China, what to expect from Friday’s meeting, and whether or not the US stance towards China is hypocritical.
What should we expect from the White House meeting Friday?
"The US has said that they are concerned about issues in North Asia, including the Korean Peninsula as well as China’s claims over the Paracel and Spratly Islands," said Ewing. "The US has been challenging China’s sovereignty over the islands and is also now doing aggressive rehearsals of a full-scale invasion of North Korea along the coast with the South Korean Navy. This is a dangerous thing for North Korea, internally, so they are lashing out against the US and South Korea."
Is there an effort underway by Western countries to oust Xi?
"First of all, one of the breathtaking things is that if the US actually stood for the things it is criticizing China for not doing, I mean, the US lied to get us into war in Iraq and Libya, but any dissent was immediately hushed," said Ewing. "Is Xi Jinping losing his grip? Well, there is the letter that is circulating in the United States and on some Chinese websites, but I am skeptical of the timing."
Ewing explained that, while some Western analysts are pointing to internal dissent within the ranks in China, a recent article suggesting that there is an active move to force the Chinese president to resign, in the wake of an unpopular crackdown on corruption along with a stagnating economy, is suspicious.
"Whenever you are dealing with politics you want to look at the timing when stories are released. In the past week the letter critical of Xi Jinping on the Internet has been widely circulated and suddenly 24 hours before the meeting with Obama, it’s front page news on the Washington Post."
Ewing notes that, while he is skeptical of the claims of internal unrest based on an unsigned and uncredited letter circulating on the web, there may be some infighting among the leaders.
"I read the letter and it has criticisms that he hasn’t been effective enough on corruption, the stock market went down, the economy is not growing fast enough and so it is unclear whether it is a hoax or tied to a real political movement."
Are there other signs of unrest in China and could the regime actually collapse?
Becker pushed back at the notion that the letter lacks credibility, citing a Washington Post article pointing to one letter from a "supposed loyal Communist Party member" that called for Xi to resign because he "created a political, economic and cultural crisis."
Becker cites another letter featured in the Post article that "was posted on the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the anti-corruption body at the center of Xi Jinping’s efforts to reform the Party and crush internal dissent."
Interestingly, Becker noted, the CCDI chief is considered to be Xi’s right-hand man, creating cause for concern. The letter says "A thousand yes men cannot equal one honest advisor. The ability to air opinions freely and to accept suggestions frequently determines the rise or fall of an empire. We should not be afraid of people saying the wrong thing, we should be afraid of people not speaking at all."
Ewing agreed that there may be reason for concern in China, but it is hard to speculate whether there is an organized effort or just general frustration. Ewing notes that, with a faltering economy and a corruption crackdown impacting how some people normally do business, there are those within the Communist Party who feel "stung." He remarked that there is likely some disagreement within the ruling party over China’s position toward North Korea.
The purported discontent within China, however, is not enough to cause a rebellion or even an active protest unless "neoconservative" media outlets, as Becker described the Washington Post, can successfully stoke the flames of opposition toward a preferred Western end.
What should we expect on Friday?
Ewing does not expect much to come out of the meeting, noting that "China has the strongest claim" over the contested territories in the South China Sea per the Law of the Sea Treaty being cited by the Obama Administration.
He also noted that it is hypocritical for the US to challenge China on the basis of the maritime agreement, given that the US has not signed the Law of the Sea Treaty.
US claims against China, that they are not doing enough against their traditional and cultural ally North Korea, also lack bearing. "China agreed to pretty severe sanctions against North Korea," Ewing explained, "but now the US is saying that they aren’t executing the sanctions against the DPRK with the amount of vigor the US would like."