DA WEI: A Window of Opportunity for the Stabilization of China-US Relations

  • On November 14, 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with US President Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Against the backdrop that the China-US ties are subject to a severe impact in recent years, the meeting between the leaders of the two countries has sent a positive signal to the world, which widely eased the anxiety of the international arena. Certainly, it is not likely for China-US relations to make substantial progress in the short term. However, it becomes promising to see the halt of deterioration and the reduction of confrontations.

    The most important aim of the meeting apparently is not to discuss the specific issues at the tactical level, but to set the course for China-US relations at the strategic level and send a signal of stability to the world. Both of the two leaders clarified their strategic intents during the meeting. Such “strategic guarantee” is an important measure for big powers to avoid misjudgment in international relations. Except for reiterating “Four Noes and One Without” that has been repeatedly endorsed by the US government, President Biden further stressed that the US has no intention to seek “decoupling” from China, to limit China’s economic development, or to contain China. President Xi Jinping pointed out that China does not seek to change the existing international order or interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and has no intention to challenge or displace the US. On the Taiwan question, China gave full account of its principled position and showed patience and sincerity. As for the Ukraine crisis, China emphasized the necessity of a peaceful solution, and also reiterated the opposition to deploying nuclear weapons and nuclear war. These statements of China have been received actively within the US society. The readers of this article may feel that the statement of the US government is far cry from the action, which is certainly true. However, pushing the other side to make a statement and urging it to keep their words and deeds in consistency will “downgrade” the differences between the two countries from the strategic level to the tactical level, which will facilitate the building of mutual trust.

    China is now marching into a new political cycle, while the US has no major political agenda in the next year. Theoretically, the next year will bring about a window of opportunity for the stabilization of China-US relations. Accordingly, we can pay attention to the following aspects.

    Firstly, whether the high-level officials of the two governments will have relatively frequent or even institutionalized exchanges. The leaders of China and the US affirmed the necessity of increasing high-level exchanges. Although it is difficult for the two countries to restore, in the short term, the communication as they did in the past when there were nearly a hundred official exchange mechanisms, the frequent, regular and pragmatic exchanges between the leaderships of the two countries are also necessary.

    Secondly, whether the two sides could reach a consensus on the major principles of exchanges to build a strategic framework. Five decades ago when there were great differences in the way that China and the US viewed the world, the introduction of Shanghai Communiqué allowed the two countries to seek common ground while setting aside differences, and promoted the development of China-US relations. For today, there is neither necessity nor possibility for China and the US to form another communiqué. However, it will play a fundamental and supporting role in bilateral relations for the two countries to reach a consensus on the basic principles of international order and exchanges between the two countries and to clarify the differences.

    Thirdly, whether the two countries could achieve factual results on global and regional issues. The leaders of the two countries clearly stated at the summit that the two sides will develop dialogues on global issues including climate change, public health and food security. It is then imperative for Chinese and the US governments to make some achievements through cooperation to stabilize the bilateral relations and benefit the world.

    Fourthly, whether the two countries could add a “safety valve” to the bilateral relations. As Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out, the two countries should add positive energy and a safety valve to China-US relations. The US also claimed more than one time that the competition between China and the US shall be installed with guardrails. It is worthy for us to wait and observe that whether the communication between the two militaries could be resumed, whether the two sides could make progress in crisis avoidance and management, and whether we could discuss on the building of a new military mutual trust mechanism.

    Fifthly, whether people-to-people exchanges could be restored to the pre-pandemic level. The heads of the two countries confirmed the importance of people-to-people exchanges to the China-US relations at this meeting. The deterioration of China-US relations and the COVID-19 pandemic have seriously affected people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. Whether flights between China and the US could reach a normal state of affairs next year; whether the people of business and academics of the two countries could travel to each other’s country with a sense of security; and whether we could break open the “echo chamber” effect regarding the national images that China and the US think of each other — for these questions, people-to-people exchanges will serve as a key solution.

    Lastly, whether some of the US politicians would exert negative influences on the China-US relations. The signal for the stabilization of China-US relations sent by the meeting of the heads of Chinese and the US governments is evident, but is by no means strong. The lack of responsibility of some US politicians, the shortcomings of the US political system such as the lack of internal coordination, and the mutually interfering government functions are the common negative factors affecting China-US relations. We need to be vigilant and cautious about whether similar incidents may occur and suffocate the hope of stability for the China-US relations.

    (This article was first published in the Global Times on November 18)

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