Nov 17, 2012

Singapore - Dramatic changes in US-China ties unlikely

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Ties between the United States and China are unlikely to experience any immediate or dramatic changes following the unveiling of the Chinese Communist Party's new top leadership, US-based experts said yesterday.

The new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) of seven members, down from nine previously, is composed of "moderate reformers and conservatives" inclined to favour consistency in US-China ties, said Dr Elizabeth Economy of the New York-based think-tank Council on Foreign Relations.

The new line-up left out "bold-faced reformers" such as Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang and the party's organisation department head, Li Yuanchao, who were seen as having championed the need for political and economic reforms, she noted.

Led by newly minted general secretary Xi Jinping, the PSC is likely to continue to seek engagement and cooperation with Washington despite occasional tension in bilateral ties, Dr Economy added.

The seven top men were introduced to the public yesterday, a week after US President Barack Obama won a second term in the White House.

During the US election campaigning, there was some tough talk on China by Obama, but experts say he is likely to pursue better, more stable relations with Beijing in his second term.

Obama yesterday congratulated Xi, saying he looked forward to working closely with him to build the US-China partnership through practical cooperation, according to Xinhua news agency.

In the first four years of the Obama administration, bilateral ties were uneven and marked by points of heightened tension over trade conflicts and security issues, including US arms sales to Taiwan.

Under Obama, Washington has also undertaken a policy of renewed attention and resources on the Asia-Pacific region.

Its "pivot to Asia" has raised suspicions in China that it is aimed at containing China's rise.

Speaking in Adelaide yesterday, a day after the US and Australia held annual security and strategy talks, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to downplay such concerns, saying that "the Pacific is big enough for all of us".

Although China and the US have "not necessarily been on extremely friendly terms, US-China bilateral ties are so fundamental to China's overall orientation that despite strong voices in some quarters, in the final analysis, a more mainstream approach will prevail", said Dr Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution.

Experts also interpreted the decision to name Xi as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) as a positive step, making for a swifter transfer of power than in the past.

Xi will be "empowered in a way his predecessor Hu Jintao wasn't", said Christopher Johnson of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Hu waited two years before he could succeed Jiang Zemin as CMC chief. Xi "will be looking less over his shoulder than Mr Hu had to", Johnson said.

"In their meetings, when Mr Hu was speaking to President Obama, he was also speaking to other members of the Chinese leadership as well. Mr Xi probably won't be in that position when the time comes for him to meet Mr Obama," he added.

Tracy Quek

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