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China-US Tensions Could Be Worse than the Cold War, US Aims for Space Superiority

SCMP, June 19, 2020


US Space Force flag, December 2029  


China-US tensions could be worse than the Cold War, academic says

Situation facing Beijing and Washington is ‘sensationally more distressing’ than US-Russia freeze, Peking University professor Wang Jisi tells World Peace Forum US President Donald Trump might seek to further contain China as he bids for re-election in November, he says

Jun Mai in Beijing

 US-China relations are at risk of getting even worse than they are now, a Chinese academic says. Photo: AFP China-US relations  could deteriorate to a level worse than the icy Moscow-Washington ties seen during the Cold War, and  Donald Trump  might yet ramp up his tough-on-China stance ahead of the US presidential election in November, according to a prominent Chinese academic.

“In the next four months, it is almost certain that China policy will be an issue of the US presidential campaign,” said Wang Jisi, dean of the school of international studies at Peking University in Beijing.

“Some Chinese analysts are concerned that the Trump camp may create a few incidents within this time frame to show its determination to contain China. That could be dangerous,” he said at the World Peace Forum, hosted by Tsinghua University on Wednesday night in the Chinese capital.

Are Xi Jinping’s China and Donald Trump’s US destined for armed conflict?

One of the country’s leading experts on US-China relations, Wang said relations between the two countries may become worse than US-Soviet ties during the Cold War.

“Moscow-Washington relations remained essentially stable for more than four decades despite a few sporadic ‘hot’ moments like the Cuban missile crisis in 1962,” he said.

Tensions between China and the US, especially during the Covid pandemic, were “sensationally more distressing than the analogy of the Cold War”, he said.

“One question is whether the China-US rivalry will last longer and cost more on both sides than the Soviet-US competition,” he said. “Another is whether an unexpected event alongside the current China-US tensions will escalate into a deadly clash.”

Beijing should not “provide ammunition” to the China hawks in Washington, Wang said, though he noted that domestic priorities, like Hong Kong, seemed to outweigh issues related to the US.

Beijing announced in May it would push ahead with a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s legislature. Washington reacted furiously to the announcement, with Trump saying the US would terminate Hong Kong’s special trading status.

Wang was joined at the forum by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who said that the recent tensions over Taiwan needed to be managed by both the US and China.

“It is critical in a crisis that the red lines are reasserted clearly, confidentially and diplomatically,” he said.

“It is wrong, as diplomatic history teaches us, to simply rely on diplomatic, let alone military signalling. We need to have clear cut communications about red lines.”

Even during the Cold War there was a clear understanding on both sides of each other’s red lines, and that helped to avert a direct military conflict, Rudd said.

“It is imperative that both sides, hopefully beginning with Yang and Pompeo, to rationalise the high-level eyeball-to-eyeball discussion to begin to exchange clear and mutual understandings about where each other’s real red lines on Taiwan lie,” he said, adding that the upcoming weeks and months were crucial for the tensions around Taiwan.

Rudd was referring to the meeting between US Secretary of State Pompeo and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi in Hawaii earlier this week.

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd says it is critical in a crisis to reassert red lines clearly, confidentially and diplomatically. Photo: AP

Susan Shirk, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for China policy under Bill Clinton, said at the forum that if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden won the US presidency it might help to ease US-China tensions.

“He’ll try to negotiate priority issues, instead of using the Trump administration’s sledgehammer approach and preserve space for cooperation on health, climate and non-proliferation,” she said.

But Shirk said she was pessimistic about a similar change on the Chinese side.

“Now the question is can China do a reset? China right now faces the possibility of having the same leader in power indefinitely,” she said.

“You’ve abandoned the regular turnover of power at the top which was so hard to achieve, such a significant political achievement for the Chinese political system, so how can China now reset its policies?”


Jun Mai is an award-winning journalist and has covered Chinese politics, diplomacy, legal affairs, social activism and general breaking news for a decade. Before his current posting in Beijing, he was based in Hong Kong and has also completed a stint in Washington D.C.


US aims for space superiority over China and Russia in new defence strategy

Pentagon identifies the two countries as greatest strategic threats to US, saying they have ‘weaponised space’ Report released a day after China had to delay its final BeiDou-3 satellite launch because of ‘technical problems’

Minnie Chan

SCMP, 19 Jun, 2020

The United States has unveiled a new defence space strategy, aiming to maintain superiority in military, commercial and other activities where it has been challenged by China and Russia.

The strategic report was released by the Pentagon on Wednesday, a day after China  had to delay its last BeiDou-3 satellite launch  because of “technical problems”. The satellite is the final and 30th of the third-generation BeiDou navigation system, China’s answer to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is owned by the United States government and run by the US Air Force.

In the report, the Pentagon identified China and Russia as the greatest strategic threats to the US, and it said the “actions, intentions and military strategies of potential adversaries” had turned space into a warfighting domain.

“China and Russia each have weaponised space as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space,” the report said. “Rapid increases in commercial and international space activities worldwide add to the complexity of the space environment.”

The final BeiDou-3 satellite was supposed to be sent into orbit on Tuesday but was delayed due to “technical problems”. Photo: Handout

To address the threats, challenges and opportunities in the current and future security environments, the US Department of Defence would make a number of changes to its space programme over the next decade, according to the report.

They included building up the Space Force, the  new branch of the US Armed Forces , realigning operational authorities, working with other government departments and private enterprises in commercial sectors, as well as cooperating with allies and partners.

He Qisong, a space defence expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said many strategies mentioned in the report – particularly those to do with information and technology sharing and business opportunities – had been used before to isolate and contain China in both the military and commercial spheres.

“The US has superiority in space already – nearly half of the 320 military and dual-use satellites in orbit were launched by the US, then comes Russia and China,” He said.

“What Washington wants is to enlarge the gap with China and Russia, especially China, which is nearing the completion of its BeiDou navigation programme.”

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said China’s BeiDou network aimed to launch a global navigation service in the next 15 years.

“The navigation technology used by the BeiDou system can compete with GPS, but the key problem is that China doesn’t have enough experience in promoting this as a global service,” Zhou said.

Beijing has invested heavily in BeiDou. The first of the satellites were launched in 2000, and the system has expanded from mainly military use to include large-scale commercial applications.

He from Shanghai University said the Pentagon’s latest space strategy could create more barriers for the BeiDou plan.

“Washington might use BeiDou’s global plan as an excuse to curb its further development, and its existing superiority in space could make it easier for the Pentagon to work with Japan, Australia and other allies and partners to contain China,” he said.

Last month, the US Space Development Agency  released details of a plan  to launch 150 satellites to track hypersonic weapons in orbit in 2024, a move observers said was aimed at helping the Pentagon control assets in space and keep a close watch on Chinese activities. Sign up now  for a 50% early bird discount on the 100+ page China Internet Report 2020 Pro Edition, which includes deep-dive analysis, trends, and case studies on the 10 most important internet sectors. Now in its 3rd year, this go-to source for understanding China tech also comes with exclusive access to 6 webinars with C-level executives. Offer valid until 30 June 2020.


Minnie Chan is an award-winning journalist, specialising in reporting on defence and diplomacy in China. Her coverage of the US EP-3 spy plane crash with a PLA J-8 in 2001 near the South China Sea opened her door to the military world. Since then, she has had several scoops relating to China's military development. She has been at the Post since 2005 and has a master's in international public affairs from The University of Hong Kong. 


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