【明報專訊】THE Sino‑US trade war is becoming increasingly fierce, with the US increasing tariffs on Chinese goods and China announcing countermeasures and vowing to "fight to the end". As China has set courtesy aside and ratcheted up its rhetoric against the US, talks sprinkled with fights may become the "new norm". Diplomatic talks are volatile. Caution is needed to sort out the facts and guard against misleading superficial observations. The fact that the Sino‑US talks have reached a deadlock at the crucial moment shows Washington wants more than a reduced trade deficit. It is also aiming to restrain China's development, and under no circumstances will Beijing back down. The rise of China means there will be changes to the two‑century‑old world order dominated by the west. But it does not mean a "clash of civilisations" is inevitable. Rather, the problem lies in Washington's increasing tendency to view China's revival from the perspective of the clash of civilisations and even the racist angle of white supremacy. Such narrow‑mindedness will only drive the whole world towards an extremely dangerous situation.
The eleventh round of Sino‑US trade negotiations last week failed to produce any results. The silver lining was that it did not end in a breakdown. But it remains unknown when the talks will restart and one cannot rule out the possibility that we may have to wait until the "Xi‑Trump meeting" at the G20 Summit next month for a turning point. In response to increased tariffs by the US to 25% on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods, China imposed new tariffs of 10% to 25% on US$60 billion worth of US goods. China's state broadcaster CCTV released a hard‑line commentary emphasising that China is well prepared to fight. "Talk, the doors are open. Fight, we will persist to the end."
Trump and his administration have kept signalling that China "reneged on its promises". At the same time, Beijing emphasises that it has been "forced to promise" a lot, implying that the US's demands are insatiable — give it an inch and it will take a mile. After cross‑checking both sides' claims with reports by international media over the days, it is not hard to see the problem is that Washington wants to, by virtue of the text of the deal and the terms of the enforcement arrangement, bring China to its knees and force it to sign a humiliating treaty.
A report by Reuters said the US accused China of altering the text of the draft deal dramatically, deleting "pledges" that it will handle issues concerning technology transfer, intellectual property and so forth by way of legislation. However, if such terms were written into the draft by the US unilaterally, of course China had the right to demand their deletion. Regarding the arrangement of enforcing the trade deal, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer demanded a penalty mechanism similar to that against North Korea so as to review China's progress on making good its pledges, which is not the way "a typical trade deal" works. That demand is obviously a departure from the principle of equality and mutual respect. It reveals a hegemonic mentality of "I am entitled to punish you".
Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, recently described the Sino‑US conflict as "a fight with a really different civilisation". She also said, by comparison, Russia is after all a member of the Western world. So the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union was only a fight within the family. The most provocative part of her remarks is not the observation that China and the west are from different civilisation systems, but that China is "the first great power competitor that is not Caucasian". That comment has in effect gone beyond the "clash of civilisations" thesis and turned the entire struggle into a rivalry between races. The racist overtones revealed remind one of the white supremacy theory that prevailed during the era of western colonialism in the 19th century and referred to coloured peoples disparagingly as "uncivilised, inferior races".
明報社評 2019.05.15﹕中美貿戰邊打邊談 白人至上態度堪憂
renege (on sth)﹕to break a promise, an agreement, etc.
insatiable﹕always wanting more of sth; not able to be satisfied
hegemonic﹕showing control by one country, organisation, etc. over other countries, etc.