United States President Barack Obama’s "Pivot to Asia" doctrine, and China’s activism in the South China Sea are looming over President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States next week.
The four day visit, also high on economic content — a constant between the world’s largest and second largest economy — will start on September 22, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday.
But, behind the scenes, a back-and-forth between the two countries to attain a psychological high ground, ahead of the visit, is in full flow.
For several weeks, Washington has been charging Beijing with cyber-theft. Besides, the acquittal last Friday of Xi Xiaoxing, a Chinese-born professor of physics, accused of siphoning sensitive U.S. technology to China, also highlights the lingering unease in the prickly relations between the two countries. Last year, espionage charges were dropped against Sherry Chen, a meteorologist, for lack of evidence.
The state-run tabloid Global Times is attributing U.S. suspicions that China was trying to steal blue-chip secrets to the "Thucydides Trap." "The above cases all demonstrate that the U.S. feels insecure about China's rise. Beijing and Washington should forge a consensus to jump out of the ‘Thucydides Trap,’ a phenomenon in which a rising power, China, provokes fear in the established power, the US, causing danger to both parties," wrote the daily.
Analysts say that the Chinese have been alarmed at the accumulation of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, under the 'Pivot to Asia' or Rebalance doctrine. They perceive the policy as a thinly veiled attempt aimed at the "containment" of a rising China.
Entrenching in Spratly Islands
On its part, China is entrenching itself in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea. As the countdown to Mr. Xi’s visit began, the U.S.-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) claimed that satellite imagery taken on September 8 showed that China was apparently preparing to construct a runway at Mischief Reef, one of the seven artificial islands China has established in the Spratly archipelago.
If confirmed, this would be the third runway in the Spratly islands, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported. The daily quoted a retired Chinese naval officer as saying that, “ If the PLA wants to achieve its naval supremacy over the South China Sea [in case there is a war], it's a must for the navy to get air control over the Spratly Islands, which is the sole gateway for the Chinese navy to enter the Western Pacific."
China's riposte evident
China's riposte to the U.S. Rebalance was also evident during the September 3 military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Chinese went out of their way to demonstrate their missile-based nuclear deterrent during the elaborate march-past, witnessed by several heads of states.
Observers point out that both sides are expected to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); a free trade arrangement marshaled by Washington, which excludes China, but includes arch-rival Japan, along with South Korea. The Chinese view the TPP as the economic arm of Washington’s China-containment approach.
Focus on 'major-country relationship'
Despite all the friction, China is keen to affirm a “major-country relationship” with Washington. Xinhua quoted President Xi as saying that China was committed to build a new model of major-country relations with the U.S., “featuring no-conflict and no-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation”.