With the Joe Biden administration busy reversing the previous administration’s policies, there is hope it would also reverse the regressive trend former president Donald Trump’s set for China-US relations.
The Trump administration’s trade war, tech war, suspension of bilateral exchange mechanisms and McCarthyist measures against Chinese journalists and media outlets and the Confucius Institutes in the United States should all be abandoned.
The most consequential bilateral relationship deserves the urgent attention of the US administration despite the extremely long list of domestic priorities for President Biden. Competition is welcome but as long as it is fair, open and based on rules-attempts to sabotage China’s development during the Trump era cannot be called competition. The Trump administration’s persecution of Huawei in the 5G rollout is a case in point.
As President Xi Jinping said in his speech to the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda on Jan 25, “we should advocate fair competition, like competing with each other for excellence in a racing field, not beating each other in a wrestling arena”. Improving relations is not about one party doing a favor to the other, or vice versa, but about win-win-win for China, the US and the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it aptly on Jan 26. “I would very much wish to avoid building of (political) blocs,” she said to a question posed by WEF founder Klaus Schwab.
In a joint statement calling for multilateral cooperation for global recovery on Wednesday, Merkel, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Senegalese President Macky Sall said, “instead of pitting civilizations and values against each other, we must build a more inclusive multilateralism”.
But some US officials and experts, it seems, feel nostalgic about the Cold War. Why else do they keep talking about building an alliance to isolate China and check its rise, economically and technologically?
Are they unaware of the new reality? A survey released by the European Council on Foreign Relations on Jan 19 shows that 33 percent of Europeans think people in the US cannot be trusted after they voted for Trump in 2016. Some 61 percent of the respondents said the US political system is “broken” while 54 percent said the world has become a worse place because of Trump’s presidency.
Importantly, 51 percent of the respondents said they do not think the US, under Biden’s leadership, can bridge the internal divides and invest in solving global issues. Nearly six out of 10 respondents in the 11 countries surveyed think China will become more powerful than the US within the next decade. And 60 percent said they wanted their country to stay neutral in a possible conflict between China and the US.
I don’t think the results will be too different if similar surveys are conducted on other continents. As some China hawks continue to advocate Trump era policies of decoupling with China, a Business Confidence Survey released on Tuesday by the German Chamber of Commerce in China, in cooperation with auditing firm KPMG, showed that 96 percent of the foreign companies operating in China have no plans to leave China in the next one year-in fact 72 percent are planning to increase investments in China and 77 percent expect the Chinese market to develop faster than other markets.
As China and the European Union held their first High-Level Environment and Climate Dialogue, I hope for a similar one between China and the US now that former Secretary of State John Kerry is Biden’s climate envoy.
But since Trump’s trade war and tech war were also a war on China’s climate mitigation and environmental protection policies, the Biden administration should immediately abandon them and resume cooperation on fighting climate change. That could be a good start to repair bilateral relations.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.