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US signals on China ties may create unintended tension

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Subject

The language of US China policy.

Significance

US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described their country's relations with China using terms that echo Chinese official statements. In particular, their use of the term 'mutual respect' may be more problematic than taking the expression at face value suggests.

Impacts

  • Framing its policy in terms of 'core interests' could draw Washington into fractious and unnecessary disputes with Beijing.
  • If Washington ultimately adopts an emollient position on China’s core interests, this will create friction with US allies, including Japan.
  • Abandoning this position now would create friction too, meaning less progress on important issues where interests do align.
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