The views on Sino-US relations expressed by the top diplomats of the United States and China on separate occasions on Tuesday offer some food for thought on how the relationship can move forward.
In his pro-dialogue and pro-cooperation dialogue with board members of the National Committee on US-China Relations, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, offered a succinct assessment of how relations had deteriorated to such an extent in the past few years.
Without putting the finger on any particular individuals, he said that the root cause is the misjudgment by some in the US who view China as “a major strategic competitor, even an adversary”. He called on the new administration to rise above the outdated mentality of zero-sum, major-power rivalry and work with China to keep the relationship on the right track.
In an interview with MSNBC, although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China poses “the most significant challenge” to the US, he said that the new administration acknowledges the Sino-US relationship is “complicated” and the challenge posed by China is also about some “self-inflicted weaknesses” of the US.
This offers some hope that if the Joe Biden administration can focus on the cooperative aspects of Sino-US relations and refrains from crossing China’s red lines on territorial and sovereignty issues, the adversarial and competitive aspects can be managed and addressed.
Unfortunately, Blinken also said the US had to be able to approach China from “a position of strength, not weakness”, indicating that Washington still wants to dictate the terms of the relationship to China, rather than engaging with it on an equal footing.
If it insists on that approach, it will only compound the adversarial and competitive aspects in their relations.
China-US relations now stand at a key moment. How their relations proceed from here will profoundly shape the future, and while there are undoubtedly challenges to be overcome, there are also opportunities to be seized if they work together.
Instead of clinging to an outdated zero-sum mentality, the Biden administration should talk to the 50 US states and the 231 US cities that have sister provinces and cities in China. They know the benefits of cooperation. And talk to the 91 percent of US companies that said in a Member Survey conducted by the US-China Business Council last year that their operations in China were profitable, in particular the 87 percent that said they have no plans to shift production out of China despite the previous administration’s attempts to cajole and coerce US companies to do so. They too know the benefits of cooperation.
By building on this positive public perception of China, the Biden administration would be able to secure more public support for cooperative relations that would in turn help improve the lives of American people, and so ease some of the divisions that are roiling the country.