A full-scale diplomatic and trade clash between the United States and China, a deeply frightening scenario, has been avoided for now. But the fundamental reasons for confrontation remain.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed in their summit in Buenos Aires on Dec. 1 to call a truce in their bilateral trade war. The U.S. will suspend a planned January tariff hike on Chinese goods.
The summit came amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. Trump implied he would expand punitive tariffs to cover all imports from China if their talks failed to produce the results he wanted. An all-out trade war between the U.S. and China would have dealt a serious blow to the world economy.
Shortly before the U.S.-China leaders' meeting, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized China's military expansion, saying that "empire and aggression has no place in the Indo-Pacific." There was fear that a "new Cold War" between the U.S. and China could be triggered should Trump and Xi fail to reach a compromise.
The two leaders apparently avoided this worst-case scenario out of consideration for negative impacts on their own countries. China's economy has already slowed down due to high tariffs imposed by both sides, and U.S. stock prices are fluctuating.
This summit, however, did not solve but only shelved deep-rooted problems the countries face. The two sides agreed to start negotiations on issues such as intellectual property rights infringements by China, long criticized by the United States. Washington says it will slap more punitive tariffs on Beijing if the talks do not produce an agreement in 90 days.
At the bottom of this confrontation lies competition between the two powers for hegemony in the high-tech field, which has direct bearing on their national security concerns.
China has been making government-led efforts to strengthen its already sophisticated technological capabilities. The U.S. is worried that China is stealing American state-of-the-art technologies to develop new industries and challenge U.S. dominance in this area.
Washington seems to be hoping to extract concessions by threatening Beijing with sanctions. The U.S. used a similar tactic to open bilateral trade talks with Japan and Europe. The country should stop "America First" protectionism.
China, which has also been criticized by Japan and Europe for its intellectual property rights violations, should squarely face the problem.
The U.S. and China, as massive countries, are responsible for the economic growth and security of the world. They should make efforts to ease bilateral tensions through upcoming negotiations.
Japan will host the summit of the Group of 20 major economies in June next year. The latest G-20 summit in Buenos Aires could not include "anti-protectionism" in its final statement due to U.S. opposition. Tokyo bears a heavy responsibility to mediate between the U.S. and China toward rebuilding international cooperation.