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US, China must find face-saving ways to break chain of retaliation

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A protester holds a US flag outside the Chinese consulate in Houston after the US ordered China to close the consulate. AFP

US, China must find face-saving ways to break chain of retaliation

The escalating confrontation between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, could further destabilise the international situation. Both countries should realise their heavy responsibilities and stop the chain of retaliation.

The US has shut down the Chinese Consulate General in Houston, Texas, in the southwestern part of the country, on grounds that it was used as a “hub of Chinese spying”.

As a countermeasure, China has closed the US Consulate General in Chengdu, Sichuan province, and claimed that some personnel at the consulate general were “conducting activities not in line with their identities”.

The role of a consulate general is to protect its own country’s citizens, be aware of the situation in the country where it is located and engage in dialogue and exchange with the host country. However, taking advantage of a Vienna Convention article on the inviolability of foreign diplomatic missions, major powers often engage in intense intelligence-gathering activities.

There are many cases in which a diplomat who is believed to be a spy is deported. However, it is unusual for a country to close a diplomatic mission of another country without specifying concrete illicit activities of that country. This can be regarded as a serious aspect of the confrontation between the US and China.

The practice of using the closure of diplomatic missions as a sanction must not spread to other countries and hamper legitimate diplomatic activities.

In his policy speech on China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that engagement with China by past US administrations that aimed to incorporate China into the international community had been a failure, and called for a change in the engagement policy. He also stressed the need for democratic countries to unite to contain China.

As opportunities for dialogue between the US and China have been reduced due to the spread of Covid-19, continued retaliatory battles could escalate tensions and develop into an unforeseen conflict. If the US takes excessive hard-line measures, it will not be able to win the support of Japan and European countries.

Suspicions still linger that US President Donald Trump is showing a confrontational attitude toward China in order to strengthen his support for the presidential election in November. The Xi administration also is apparently being forced to take a hard-line attitude toward the US to avoid domestic criticism of a “soft attitude” and maintain its prestige.

Both the US and China must regain their composure and find ways to settle the situation.

Editorial/THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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