China, US to reset ties

Yang Sheng, Chen Shasha and Li Sikun

Beijing: China and the US released great news that attracted world attention on Wednesday and Thursday, as the world’s two biggest economies decided to take the first step to reset their problematic ties.
They announced a “2+2” meeting between the two countries’ chief diplomats next week, which was a highly anticipated topic for journalists worldwide to ask Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a press conference this week.

Normally, the Premier’s press conference after the closing of the annual session of the National People’s Congress would focus on broad issues, and the hottest topics would generally be related to the economy and people’s livelihood. But since China-US relations are the most consequential ties in the world and will have an impact on China’s own development, Premier Li’s remarks on the upcoming meeting reflects China’s sincerity to fix its ties with the US.
As China and the US have different histories, cultures, stages of development and social systems, it is inevitable that there will be disagreements, and sometimes even sharp ones, when we get along with each other. What matters is how we handle them, Li told the press conference.

“We hope that China and the US will engage in multi-faceted and multi-tiered dialogue. Even if consensus cannot be reached for the time being, we can exchange views, increase trust and explain confusions, which will help manage and resolve differences,” Li said.

At the invitation of the US, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, will meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan March 18-19 in Anchorage, Alaska for a high-level strategic dialogue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian announced.

According to the released information, Chinese experts said it’s confirmed that the US was the one to have sent the invitation, and the location is in a US state far from its mainland, as the US understands the sensitivity of such a meeting with China, but also needs to engage with China as soon as possible. This proves that the US is being very careful and highly values ties with China, since it wouldn’t meet with China unless it’s fully prepared. The US Department of State released the same information earlier.
Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday that the Biden administration obviously needs this meeting more than China does, so the US released the information quickly.

“The Biden administration is at least better than the previous one as they are willing to talk with us. China has sincerity for rebuilding ties, so no matter what the result might be, the intention for dialogue is always welcomed,” Jin said.
Yang Xiyu, senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that Alaska is a suitable venue for an attempt for China and the US to cautiously take the initial step to reset ties.

“Compared with the other 48 states on its mainland, Alaska and Hawaii are less politically sensitive. In the past, direct flights from Beijing to New York or Washington in the US mainland had to stop at Anchorage. So this city has special significance in the history of China-US relations,” Yang noted.
The meeting will take place following Blinken’s meetings with two of the US’ “closest regional allies in Tokyo and Seoul,” but the US didn’t specify what issues will be discussed in the meeting with senior Chinese officials, according to the US State Department.

Yang said that small players are always worried that they might be betrayed or used for exchanges on the table of the big players, so before the talks with China, the US has to pacify its allies, and at least confirm the stances held by Tokyo and Seoul to make sure they will follow the US. “This will give some cards to the US at the negotiating table with China.”

Jin said the Biden administration has attached great importance to the US-led alliance system, and some US allies are waiting for “the latest instructions from their boss,” and some, like Australia, have already been seriously punished by China due to the extreme hostility of the previous Trump administration, so the US needs to show them a new attitude toward China.
The Biden administration has just completed its most important economic stimulus plan in its first 100 days in office, which has given it a break to focus on diplomatic issues, Sun Taiyi, an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

By unilaterally releasing the information one day earlier than China did, the US wants to gain some advantage, because if the meeting doesn’t take place or the result is not positive, the US could let the world to blame China, said Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs, adding that China takes no responsibility for worsening bilateral ties, so if the US wants to normalize the relationship, it should be sincerer.
Jin said the US should understand that China wants some problems to be solved rather than just have some arguments with the US, otherwise a phone call would be enough, so if the two sides can’t reach concrete agreement to solve some problems that China is concerned about, and if China just receives another round of “lecturing” from US officials in Alaska, the meeting would be pointless.

At the Lanting Forum held jointly by the China Public Diplomacy Association, Peking University and the Renmin University of China in Beijing last month, former US senior officials and scholars put forward a number of specific suggestions on the proposal raised by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to form lists for cooperation and issues requiring dialogue and crisis management between China and the US.

US scholars and former senior officials suggested that China and the US can cooperate in fighting COVID-19, climate change and boosting global economic recovery.
However, the Biden administration and the US Congress have also sent some other complicated signals ahead of the meeting. These include provocative comments on China’s reform for Hong Kong’s electoral system, and the sensitive issue of the Dalai Lama that is related to China’s Tibet.

On Wednesday, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer plowed through the Taiwan Straits, marking the third passage of an American naval vessel through the Straits since Biden took office.
Shen said the Biden administration obviously won’t give up many adversarial approaches, and we should not expect China and the US to solve every problem in just one meeting. He also noted that the China-US relations will continue to be a complexity of competition, adversary and cooperation.

Yang from China Institute of International Studies said the US has never given up its efforts to prevent China from realizing a peaceful rise, so the two countries will talk to each other, but the US won’t change its objective of containing China’s development and preventing China from surpassing the US.

In the past, China and the US have tried to carry out the “2+2” dialogues between officials in charge of foreign affairs and national defense, but this time, the “2+2” meeting is different from those in the past, and could become a normal dialogue mechanism, experts said.

“There are many issues that both sides can talk about from the perspective of diplomacy and national security strategy, and such a mechanism better suits the needs for dialogue between decision-making levels,” Yang said.
Yang noted, “This meeting would be significant in general, and since there are so many problems, we won’t see the effect instantly. But it could at least pave a way for the reset of China-US relations.”

If the new mechanism becomes institutionalized, it would provide a great opportunity to bring predictability and stability in the most consequential bilateral ties in the world, he said. “Let’s see whether the two sides will be able to take the opportunity.”
Diao Daming, an expert on US studies at the Renmin University of China, said on Thursday that if this dialogue can produce desirable results and these results can be successfully implemented, it is very likely that the heads of the two states would meet in the future and embrace a better atmosphere.