Posts Tagged ‘technology theft’

Trump Eyes China Sanctions While Seeking Its Help on North Korea

August 13, 2017

BEIJING — In a diplomatic gamble, President Trump is seeking to enlist China as a peacemaker in the bristling nuclear-edged dispute with North Korea at the very moment he plans to ratchet up conflict with Beijing over trade issues that have animated his political rise.

Mr. Trump spoke late Friday with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping of China, to press the Chinese to do more to rein in North Korea as it races toward development of long-range nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. Mr. Xi sought to lower the temperature after Mr. Trump’s vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, urging restraint and a political solution.

But the conversation came as Mr. Trump’s administration was preparing new trade action against China that could inflame the relationship. Mr. Trump plans to return to Washington on Monday to sign a memo determining whether China should be investigated for intellectual property violations, accusing Beijing of failing to curb the theft of trade secrets and rampant online and physical piracy and counterfeiting. An investigation would be intended to lead to retaliatory measures.

The White House had planned to take action on intellectual property earlier but held off as it successfully lobbied China to vote at the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions on North Korea a week ago. Even now, the extra step of determining whether to start the investigation is less than trade hawks might have wanted, but softens the blow to China and gives Mr. Trump a cudgel to hold over it if he does not get the cooperation he wants.

While past presidents have tried at least ostensibly to keep security and economic issues on separate tracks in their dealings with China, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, suggesting he would back off from a trade war against Beijing if it does more to pressure North Korea. “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has sought to leverage trade and North Korea with China for months, initially expressing optimism after hosting Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, only to later grow discouraged that Beijing was not following through. The effort has now reached a decisive point with the overt threats of American military action against North Korea — warnings clearly meant for Beijing’s ears.

China is widely seen as critical to any resolution to the nuclear crisis because of its outsize role as North Korea’s main economic benefactor. China accounts for as much as 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade and supplies most of its food and energy while serving as the primary purchaser of its minerals, seafood and garments.

But even though the effectiveness of the new United Nations sanctions depends largely on China’s willingness to enforce them, the Trump administration so far has failed to come up with enough incentives to compel China to do so, analysts said.

In their phone conversation on Friday night, Mr. Xi stressed that it was “very important” for the two leaders to maintain contact to find “an appropriate solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement carried in the Chinese state-run media. The language indicated China wants to push forward with a diplomatic proposal for North Korea that the Trump administration has brushed aside.

The Chinese statement urged the “relevant sides” — a reference to North Korea and the United States — to “avoid words and actions that exacerbate tensions.” It did not explicitly criticize North Korea, which issued its own searing rhetoric all week, including a threat against Guam, and did not draw a clear distinction between Washington and Pyongyang.

In its own account of the call, the White House emphasized points of concurrence. “President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” read a statement from the White House issued early Saturday morning. “The presidents also reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

If Mr. Trump was trying to move Mr. Xi toward bolder action against the North, he did so while the Chinese leader is preoccupied with his own domestic political machinations, attending to a once-every-five-year political shake-up in the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Mr. Xi is believed to be at the beach resort at Beidaihe on the coast east of Beijing, where the leadership conducts a secretive retreat every summer, sometimes emerging casually dressed in open neck shirts and Windbreakers for photographs on the strip of sand along the beachfront.

The final stages of the political process to win Mr. Xi’s favor for a place on the standing committee of the party, now a seven-member body that makes the final decisions on the nation’s affairs, is underway among the resort’s villas and hotels, China’s political analysts said.

The selection will be unveiled at a national congress in Beijing sometime between September and November. Until then, almost all other matters, including foreign policy, are put on hold, the analysts said.

Still, the leadership has been vexed that the Trump administration has paid scant attention to China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze” solution to North Korea. Described many times by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the notion calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program at current levels in exchange for the United States drawing down military exercises off the Korean Peninsula.

So far, the United States has dismissed the proposal as a nonstarter. Instead, to China’s irritation, the United States is looking to increase missile defenses in South Korea. In some respects, though, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has tried to please Beijing by pledging that Washington does not seek to overthrow the North Korean leader, and does not plan to send American troops north of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea.

Mr. Xi is said to be exasperated with Kim Jong-un, a leader much his junior, whom he openly disparaged during his meetings in Florida in April with Mr. Trump, American officials say. But despite the frustration with Mr. Kim, China still prefers to have what it considers a relatively stable North Korea under Mr. Kim rather than a collapsed state that could result in a united Korean Peninsula on its border, with American troops in control.

In rebuffing the “freeze for freeze” proposal, Washington has raised suspicions in Beijing about its true intentions, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. Chinese leaders believe the United States sees its true rival as China, a mammoth economy, and not North Korea, one of the poorest countries on earth, Ms. Sun said. In this estimation, Washington is merely using North Korea to mount a military containment strategy around China, she said.

“The Chinese operate from the conviction that China remains and will always be the No. 1 strategic threat to the U.S., so the issue of North Korea will be used against China — through sanctions, provocations and everything else,” she said. China was also annoyed, Ms. Sun said, that the United States refuses to discuss a “grand bargain” or “end game” on the future of the Korean Peninsula. Of most interest to China, she said, is the future disposition of American forces in South Korea, now standing at 28,500 troops.

The phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will be followed by a visit from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is expected in Beijing on Monday. General Dunford will also visit South Korea and Japan.

The general’s visit, planned earlier this summer, is the first by a senior American official to Beijing since Mr. Tillerson met with Mr. Xi in March.

Much of the diplomacy between China and the United States has been conducted between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. Those talks have concentrated on Mr. Cui’s efforts to stave off punishing trade tariffs against China that are gathering momentum in White House discussions.

During his two-day visit, General Dunford is likely to use the opportunity to drive home arguments for the Chinese to put more pressure on the Kim government, said Brian McKeon, who was a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

A major point of dispute will likely be American plans to deploy more missile defenses in South Korea, he said. China vehemently opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, that has already been deployed in South Korea, calling it a threat to its own security.

“I would expect that Dunford will make the usual request that they put more pressure on the regime to behave, and to recognize that Kim’s actions threatens our core interests, which means we will have to continue to take measures that Beijing doesn’t like, for example the deployment of Thaad,” Mr. McKeon said.

Trump Administration to Begin Probe of Alleged Chinese Technology Theft

August 13, 2017

Investigation of China’s government agencies is unrelated to North Korea nuclear crisis, officials say

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Updated Aug. 12, 2017 2:33 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration announced plans Saturday to pressure China over alleged intellectual property theft, adding the threat of trade retaliation to an ongoing campaign seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Aides said President Donald Trump will sign a directive Monday ordering his trade representative to start a formal probe into whether Chinese government agencies and companies were unfairly acquiring valuable patents and licenses from U.S. firms, either through outright theft, or by pressuring Americans to turn over their inventions as the price of entry into China’s market.

“Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security,” a senior administration official said in a Saturday morning briefing for reporters.

Officials at the briefing stressed that while they were casting a spotlight on what they consider a major irritant in bilateral commercial relations, they weren’t rushing into action. They said Monday’s directive would launch a study into whether a formal trade investigation was warranted, and that probe would take a year or more. They declined to discuss what sorts of penalties the U.S. might impose against China, saying that question was “premature.”

The administration made the announcement a day after Mr. Trump held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss escalating tensions over North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he would cut Beijing slack over trade issues if he felt the Chinese were being helpful in reining in Pyongyang.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the month that a new trade investigation over China’s alleged forced technology transfers was in the works and had been planned for an early August announcement. But that was delayed until after an Aug. 5 U.N. Security Council vote imposing new financial penalties on North Korea, which China supported.

Asked if Mr. Trump discussed the pending trade investigation with Mr. Xi on Friday, an official pointed to the official White House summary of the call, which didn’t mention trade issues.

The White House aides said the new trade probe wasn’t tied to the administration’s North Korea strategy, despite the president’s earlier linkage of the subjects. “These are totally unrelated events,” one official said. “Trade is trade. National security is national security.”

Write to Jacob Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced plans Saturday to pressure China over alleged intellectual property theft, adding the threat of trade retaliation to an ongoing campaign seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Aides said President Donald Trump will sign a directive Monday ordering his trade representative to start a formal probe into whether Chinese government agencies and companies were unfairly acquiring valuable patents and licenses from U.S. firms, either through outright theft, or by pressuring Americans to turn over their inventions as the price of entry into China’s market.

“Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security,” a senior administration official said in a Saturday morning briefing for reporters.

Officials at the briefing stressed that while they were casting a spotlight on what they consider a major irritant in bilateral commercial relations, they weren’t rushing into action. They said Monday’s directive would launch a study into whether a formal trade investigation was warranted, and that probe would take a year or more. They declined to discuss what sorts of penalties the U.S. might impose against China, saying that question was “premature.”

The administration made the announcement a day after Mr. Trump held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss escalating tensions over North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he would cut Beijing slack over trade issues if he felt the Chinese were being helpful in reining in Pyongyang.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the month that a new trade investigation over China’s alleged forced technology transfers was in the works and had been planned for an early August announcement. But that was delayed until after an Aug. 5 U.N. Security Council vote imposing new financial penalties on North Korea, which China supported.

Asked if Mr. Trump discussed the pending trade investigation with Mr. Xi on Friday, an official pointed to the official White House summary of the call, which didn’t mention trade issues.

The White House aides said the new trade probe wasn’t tied to the administration’s North Korea strategy, despite the president’s earlier linkage of the subjects. “These are totally unrelated events,” one official said. “Trade is trade. National security is national security.”

The new probe does signal a bit of a hardening shift in Trump administration’s China trade policy, as it is the first White House trade directive aimed directly at Beijing. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump regularly blasted the U.S.’s $347 billion trade deficit with China, and vowed to take swift, drastic retaliation if he were elected, from across-the-board tariffs to branding Beijing a “currency manipulator.”

But the early months of Mr. Trump’s presidency have seen a considerably softer tone toward China over trade. He quickly dropped the campaign-trail threats, and during a genial April summit with Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort, the two countries launched a new “comprehensive economic dialogue” aimed at resolving bilateral commercial disputes amicably. A month later, China announced some modest market-opening moves, like ending a 14-year ban on U.S. beef imports, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declared economic ties between the world’s two largest economies were “hitting a new high.”

But the first round of economic dialogue talks in mid-July were tense and ended up with no agreements. Officials said Saturday that impasse was one factor behind the decision to launch the new trade review.

In focusing on China’s voracious appetite for American intellectual property, the Trump administration responding to a longstanding complaint by Western trade groups, who say the country’s industrial policies effectively force foreign companies in sectors such as autos to transfer technology to stay in the market.

Beijing has been emboldened by the growing strength of its own companies to make more demands of foreign firms, industry executives say, and the government is careful to keep regulations vague. U.S. high-tech companies have struck a string of investments and technology-sharing agreements in software, semiconductors and other areas in the past couple of years, often under pressure from officials in closed-door meetings.

China’s government rejects assertions that it forces foreign companies to transfer technology or permits infringement of intellectual property. Premier Li Keqiang denied it was using industrial policies to strong-arm foreign companies into turning over technology, telling a World Economic Forum meeting in Dalian in June that “such cooperation is voluntary and helps companies expand in the Chinese market and even in third countries.”

While many U.S. companies and policy makers agree Chinese forced technology transfer is a problem, they also say it is difficult to figure out a solution.

One challenge is that many U.S. firms are reluctant to lodge formal complaints, making it difficult for trade officials to make their case.

“An important question going forward will be whether U.S. companies and trade associations who have highlighted the problem will actually come forward and assist our government in the investigation,” said Michael Wessel, a member of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Or, he added, “whether they will hide the facts fearful that our government won’t follow through, that the Chinese will retaliate against their interests or that they’ll have to admit what’s happened to their critical assets.”

Another question is just what remedy the U.S. government might pursue if it felt it had a case. Options might include imposing new limits on technologies that U.S. firms could license to China, or imposing new limits on Chinese investment in the U.S. But those would likely draw complaints from U.S. firms, and may contradict other policy goals. Mr. Trump personally touted China’s Foxconn Technology Group’s announcement in July to build a new display panel factory in Wisconsin.

The new China probe also marks a noticeable change in the process for how the Trump administration is processing trade policies, and suggests that a newly more organized and measured way to proceed with those complaints may be emerging.

Earlier Trump trade threats were made seeking swift action, and were done without broad consultation from stakeholders, drew widespread concern from business groups and lawmakers. Among them, an April promise to impose new steel and aluminum tariffs by June — a plan that remains stalled amid resistance. Mr. Trump also in April threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but backed down after intense lobbying from allies, business groups, lawmakers and his own aides. He instead agreed to renegotiate the pact with Canada and Mexico, a process that begins Wednesday.

In choosing the China trade probe, Mr. Trump is targeting an area that business groups and Republican and Democratic lawmakers have identified as a concern. His aides Saturday also stressed that in contrast with the rushed earlier attempts at handling trade matters, they were setting no deadline and that any investigation would closely follow intricate procedures, including discussions with Beijing.

Before making any decisions on an investigation, the trade representative “would consult with the appropriate advisory committees,” one official said, and “if the investigation is instituted, we would consult with China. We would give interested parties the opportunity to comment. There would likely be a hearing. And these investigations can take as much as a year before we reach a conclusion.”

Eva Dou in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

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Expectations Low for Obama and Xi Jinping Summit

September 21, 2015

By Carrie Gracie
BBC News

President Xi and President Obama, pictured in 2013

Getty Images

Do you have expectations of this week’s summit between President Obama and President Xi? If so, I suggest you lower them.

The sombre fact is that despite the enormous range and complexity of the US-China relationship, it is becoming ever harder to manage. The smiles and ceremony of a 21-gun salute and state dinner will conceal gritted teeth and crossed fingers.

A game of brinkmanship is afoot and on cyber-hacking and contested atolls, it would need a reclamation project bigger and swifter than the one under way in the South China Sea for guest and host to find a piece of common ground to stand on.

But spin it another way and there should be something to celebrate.

Four and a half decades, five Chinese communist leaders, eight American presidents, and a transition from a world in which China is isolated and marginal to one in which it is increasingly able to meet the United States on equal terms.

And through it all, the US-China relationship has broadly held to the course that President Nixon set out in 1972 as he prepared to travel to Beijing to end two decades of enmity:

“The government of the People’s Republic of China and the government of the United States have had great differences. We will have differences in the future. But what we must do is to find a way to see that we can have differences without being enemies in war.”

US President Richard Nixon toasts with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in February 1972 in Beijing
Richard Nixon shares a toast with Chinese PM Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1972 during the first visit by a US president to the People’s Republic of China. Getty Images

Forty-three years later an ambitious Chinese leader is coming for his first state visit in the opposite direction and the challenge is still the same. But now the stakes are even higher for this relationship and it has all the advantages of experience and proven resilience. What makes it so hard then?

‘Properly manage differences’

Only last week, President Obama issued a blunt warning to China on cyber-hacking: “There comes a point at which we consider this a core national security threat… we can choose to make this an area of competition, which I guarantee you we’ll win if we have to.”

Only a scrambled visit by China’s security chief for what the White House described as “candid, blunt discussions” seems to have averted American sanctions.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, the latest satellite imagery from this month suggests that even during a summit countdown, Beijing is ready to defy American warnings and possibly even renege on its own promises to continue reclamation work to turn contested atolls into military outposts.

Is President Xi about to waste a huge opportunity? Ahead of the state visit he said: “Both sides must accommodate each other’s core interests, avoid strategic miscalculation, and properly manage and control differences.”

Donald Trump
Donald Trump has spoken of China stealing American jobs. Getty images

But he needs a much, much better speech writer if he is to get heard amid the US media frenzy of a presidential campaign and a papal visit. Already Republican candidates led by Donald Trump are lining up to complain that China is stealing American jobs and some have said President Xi’s visit should be cancelled or downgraded.

US public opinion is increasingly negative on China. President Obama told the media China’s peaceful, orderly rise is in the US’s interest and good for the world.

But President Xi urgently needs to reach out to American politicians and public to explain how it is in the US’s interest. A mix of reassurance, vision and rigour are required, and a measure of charm would no doubt help.

But with a schedule focused on closed-door sessions with big business and tightly choreographed photo opportunities with tame members of the American public, it looks as if President Xi has opted for a risk-averse strategy with minimal substance and candour.

Return to form

Don’t forget this is the man with the Chinese Dream, a plan for what he calls “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

Implicit is the argument that a great China is not a novelty but a return to form.

For most of the past 2,000 years, China’s economy has accounted for between a quarter and a third of world output and after traumatic shocks delivered by outsiders in the 19th and 20th Centuries, China is on track to overtake the US within the decade and regain its status as the world’s biggest economy.

A labourer cuts steel bars at a railway bridge construction site in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, ChinaChina wants a foreign policy that reflects its economic rise. Reuters

What’s more, China is intent on building military force and diplomatic clout to match its economic might. The swiftest, surest and cheapest way to all three is through US co-operation, and, sound and fury notwithstanding, it has come to count on that co-operation, at least in the economic sphere.

Without American help, how could China have become the world’s largest manufacturing and trading nation in such breathtakingly short order? Without American help how can China confront the daunting economic challenges it faces today?

But expect no warm speeches on that score from President Xi in Washington.

Model v dream

Deaf to American concerns about market access or technology theft, the Chinese narrative of the relationship presents a version of itself as a much-maligned partner, uncomplainingly creating wealth and bankrolling spendthrift American consumers. China does not export its ideology or send troops abroad, it points out.

President Xi’s preferred slogan for the relationship involves not a dream but a model. He raised it again on the eve of the summit, “the new model of great power relations”. This is shorthand for a future in which the US assists China’s inexorable advance in order to avoid the wars and convulsions which have accompanied the rise of other great powers in world history.

Seen from inside his model, the US record is far from benign. Instead, the US threatens China’s political system by pushing democracy, undermines its territorial integrity by supplying arms to Taiwan and schemes to contain China by surrounding it with American alliances and military deployments.

Activists outside the White House
Human rights activists want President Obama to call on President Xi to halt the crackdown on Tibetans and Uighurs, and civil society in China. Reuters

In fact, part of Mr Xi’s dream is that a rejuvenated China will no longer need to put up with an American security order in Asia at all.

But Americans are famous dreamers too.

And especially since China’s opening up and integration into the world economy, many have hoped that in Beijing they might one day have a democratic partner and “responsible stakeholder in keeping the world safe”.

Hostilities

That American version of the Chinese dream is an affront to Mr Xi’s own and as he goes through the protocol motions on the American red carpet, it is no exaggeration to say that he sees his hosts as outright ideological enemies.

He is at least as hostile to their politics as Chairman Mao was in the days of Nixon’s visit, probably more so because of the close and present danger those politics present in a globalised world.

In his first three years in power, President Xi has used anti-corruption and ideological campaigns to stiffen the sinews of the Communist Party and buttress one-party rule.

He has censored the discussion of universal values like democracy and freedom of speech, locking up academics, human rights lawyers, civil society activists, journalists, Christians and bloggers.

The Dalai Lama and President Obama
Chinese media has been critical of President Obama’s meetings with the Dalai Lama. White House photo

Chinese propaganda teaches that the US is just the latest in a long line of hostile foreign powers trying to keep China down with a range of ideological weapons including meddling in Hong Kong and befriending the Dalai Lama.

President Xi makes no apology for his politics. “Shoes do not have to be the same but simply to fit the wearer,” he says. He is an authoritarian by conviction who believes China needs discipline and a sense of shared mission to realise its “great rejuvenation”.

All of this is admittedly a difficult message to articulate for an American public. But some truths should be attempted for the sake of candour and connection.

President Xi could say that China still has enormous challenges at home and will avoid clashes with the US where possible. But that at the same time he wants a foreign policy that reflects the reality of China’s rise. And that on a range of issues, including rules for investment and climate change, he will co-operate with the US to the advantage of both countries.

He would be wise to attempt a much more nuanced and persuasive case on areas of competition like cybersecurity and the South China Sea. And he needs to show that he can listen and respond to the concerns of Americans. If not always with agreement, at least with understanding.

Now that would truly be powerful and might even presage a “new model of great power relations”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-34290960

Bilateral distrust between U.S., China at an all-time high

December 17, 2012

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Combined forces exercise in East China Sea Ships from the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Republic of Korea navy underway during an exercise in the East China Sea in June 2012. KAITLYN R. BREITKREUTZ/U.S. NAVY

By Matthew M. Burke
Stars & Stripes

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A real life game of chess is being played out in the Pacific between China, the United States and its allies.

China is dramatically modernizing its military, especially its navy, and has been engaged in confrontations in recent months with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. Both Japan and the Philippines have defense treaties with the U.S.

The Chinese also have commissioned an aircraft carrier, landed a J-15 fighter on its deck and deployed drones in exercises near Okinawa, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has recommitted itself to the Pacific and expanded diplomatic ties in the region, courting Myanmar as it emerges from isolation and expanding relationships with Vietnam and Cambodia. U.S. Marines have been stationed in Australia, and there are plans to deploy littoral combat ships to Singapore, moves that some analysts see as a policy of containment.

High-level meetings in Beijing and at the Pentagon, invitations to exercises and tours of military bases for visiting dignitaries have done little to mask that bilateral distrust is at an all-time high and these examples of tit for tat one-upmanship and chest puffing have not been seen — outside of the Korean Peninsula — since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Two major reports this year have detailed an emboldened Chinese government — bolstered by years of economic growth, theft of technology secrets and a navy that is quickly becoming more modern and designed to specifically combat U.S. Navy platforms — that increasingly sees the U.S. as a superpower in decline. China is in a leadership transition, but analysts don’t expect much to change.

The tenuous relationship has been called many things, from adversarial to an arms race.

“There is a new kind of Cold War going on,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a professor in political science at the University of Miami and an expert on the Chinese government and U.S. defense policy.

Teufel Dreyer said it is reminiscent of the chess game played between the U.S. and Soviets following World War II, even though the U.S. government won’t acknowledge it’s happening. Official Chinese military journals that aren’t translated into English say it “implicitly,” she said.

Baohui Zhang, a political science professor at Lingnan University’s Centre for Asian Pacific Studies in Hong Kong, stopped just short of calling it a Cold War.

“I think that at a minimum, a strategic competition has emerged between China and the United States,” Zhang said. “They are competing for influence and leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.”

China began to modernize its navy in the 1990s, according to a Congressional Research report released in March. The reasons largely relate to Taiwan, which is claimed by China but has self-rule and is allied with Washington. The Chinese are believed to be developing an anti-access maritime force that would try to keep the U.S. Navy from intervening if Taiwan declared independence and conflict broke out.

The Chinese also aim to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and enforce its view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone.

China’s naval modernization effort includes anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft, submarines, aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, mine countermeasures ships, hospital ships, education and training, as well as exercises with countries like Russia, the report said.

The Defense Department says the amount of modern units in China’s submarine force has gone from less than 10 percent in 2000 to about 56 percent in 2010. Surface combatants have gone from less than 10 percent in 2000 to about 26 percent in 2010.

“Decisions that Congress and the executive branch make regarding U.S. Navy programs for countering improved Chinese maritime military capabilities could affect the likelihood or possible outcome of a potential U.S.-Chinese military conflict in the Pacific over Taiwan or some other issue,” the paper’s author Ronald O’Rourke wrote.

“In the absence of such a conflict, however, the U.S.-Chinese military balance in the Pacific could nevertheless influence day-to-day choices made by other Pacific countries, including choices on whether to align their policies more closely with China or the United States.”

It is a daunting prospect considering the gridlock in Washington, looming defense budget cuts, and an already-overtaxed fleet of ships. More than one-fifth of Navy ships fell short of combat readiness in the past two years, and fewer than half of the service’s deployed combat aircraft are ready for their missions at any given time, according to congressional testimony.

Another report, “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust,” released in March by the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, said the Chinese government’s senior leaders believe they will come out on top due to the state of American politics and the economy.

Zhang said the Chinese economy is poised to overtake the U.S. in the next 10 years as the world’s largest.

Wang Jisi, an influential and widely respected expert on Chinese foreign policy who has held positions within the Chinese government, wrote in the Brookings report that the Chinese view themselves as on the rise and the U.S. on the decline. As such, they see the U.S. as trying to disrupt their rise toward becoming the world’s most powerful country.

“In Beijing’s view, it is U.S. policies, attitude and misperceptions that cause the lack of mutual trust between the two countries,” Jisi wrote.

O’Rourke wrote that China’s emerging maritime anti-access force is similar to the Soviet Union’s sea denial force developed during the Cold War to keep U.S. forces from intervening in a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. The difference, O’Rourke claims, is the Chinese missile capability to strike a moving ship at sea. Military experts have called that a game-changer.

Zhang said the era of globalization could not support a full-scale war between the two powers, but he was still pessimistic.

About the future

“This is why the U.S. position on the issue is so important. If it overextends its commitment, then a U.S.-China stand-off could emerge” from a standoff between China and the Philippines or Japan, he said.

Teufel Dreyer said the Chinese are being careful not to instigate an all-out military conflict but are slowly and deliberately escalating the situation, claiming territory and restricting access.

The Chinese are mining the South China Sea for natural resources like oil to maintain an economic growth rate of 8 percent that some feel is unsustainable. Teufel Dreyer said this is being done to mitigate dissent with the promise of a bright future.

“No country can sustain an 8 percent annual growth forever,” according to Simon Shen, a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong. “There’s a rise of Chinese nationalism, but the target isn’t only the U.S. In a country where full freedom of speech is lacking, nationalist trends can also go against the regime.”

The U.S. government has pledged to support its allies in the region but does not weigh in on territorial disputes like those that China is embroiled in with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Analysts fear that an overcommitment by the U.S. could lead to a conflict.

“The U.S. has a national interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea,” a Department of State spokesman said, asking not be identified.

However, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment Thursday to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Japan on the uninhabited islands that Japan calls Senkaku and China calls Daioyu as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013.

So what will be the outcome?

Chinese economic growth already has begun to slow, Teufel Dreyer said, adding that she believes the Obama administration is playing nice while patiently waiting for China’s rising star to burn out and fall.

“The U.S. is going to try very hard to manage this relationship,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do. China is eventually going to be constrained by the weaknesses in their own system. The U.S. will try to smooth the cracks [in the relationship] without giving anything away while trying to fix our own deficiencies.”