The recent video call between the presidents of China and the US was made at a critical time when the world is wondering where the two countries’ relations are headed. During the conversation, Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation which must be followed to ensure the two countries getting along in peace in the new era. In return, US President Joe Biden affirmed that his administration won’t seek to change China’s system or to start a new Cold War. The leaders’ consensus provided a framework for subsequent efforts from both sides to cooperate bilaterally and beyond as well as to manage their differences.
It’s unrealistic to hope that one meeting will solve all problems. China has always honored its promises, while past policy flip-flops put US credibility in question. Whether the virtual summit will usher in a thaw in relations seem to be in the hands of the Biden administration.
The Taiwan question is a crucial part of China-US relations, which brooks no errors or missteps. Over the past 42 years, US governments have assured China repeatedly of their commitment to the one-China principle and that they do not support “Taiwan independence.” Unfortunately, Washington keeps selling arms to Taiwan and does other things under the so-called Taiwan Relations Act, which have gravely infringed upon China’s core interests and stirred tensions between the two countries from time to time.
Since Biden took office, his government has continued Trump-era policies toward Taiwan which is already in dangerous territory. The one-China principle is the political cornerstone for China-US ties and any attempt to upend it is playing with fire. China’s resolve and capability to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity shall never be underestimated.
Rising tensions over Taiwan can only be eased when the US government toes the line on the one-China principle and stops its perilous actions against China’s red lines. Otherwise, China-US relations will see huge setbacks and fall into greater crisis. The ball is in the US court.
For a long time, domestic politics in the US played a disruptive role in China-US relations. The Trump administration rode high on waves of nationalism and identity politics, which has unleashed considerable impact on American foreign policies including those on China. The world shall not be surprised if Washington continues its competitive strategy by taking tougher stands on China as the pressure of midterm elections and 2024 general elections looms.
That’s why President Xi urged President Biden to exercise “political leadership” as he talked with the American leader. If President Biden is to deliver what he said in the conversation, he is expected to show courage and do the right thing by overcoming partisan fighting, political decay and nationalism at home.
In 1970s, leaders of China and the US moved with the trend of times and made the historic decision to reestablish bilateral diplomatic ties. Four decades on, the two countries face similar challenges which vision and collaboration at the highest level is needed as US-China relations again nosedived. President Biden particularly is expected to demonstrate political leadership and steer America's China policy back onto the track of reason and pragmatism.
China and the US are too intertwined in their economic relationship to “decouple.” Both have benefited from globalization and stable global supply chains. China does not export its ideology and has no intention to compete with America for a “sphere of influence”. These realities show that China-US interactions don’t resemble at all the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US.
However, the Cold War mentality remains in America’s diplomacy as it tries to align with ideologically like-minded countries to build small political clubs or military alliances in the name of “liberal democracy” to curb China’s rise. Many countries have voiced their concerns that they don’t want to choose sides in any China-US confrontation.
It’s necessary to draw some red lines in China-US relations which is different from Biden’s statements about establishing “guardrails” to prevent competition from veering into conflict. We must recognize that China-US relations are not just about competition. Competition does exist but only constitutes a part of bilateral relations. China opposes the use of competition to define the US-China relationship. This approach as a whole doesn’t accord to reality and will provide misguidance.
From the American perspective of competition, China is marked as a major strategic competitor, just one step shy of “foe.” Should the two countries follow this playbook, conflicts will become normal and the two countries may, as some experts have warned, “sleepwalk” into confrontation.
The “guardrails,” if they are to be erected, need to be clarified and done by the two countries sitting down to find solutions or manage their differences through dialogue and negotiation and to seek cooperation where they can. Only by so doing can China and America expect to find ways to coexist and move back to a normal track under the guidelines of mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
The author is a former Chinese deputy foreign minister. The opinions expressed in the article reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the People’s Daily.