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US urged to honor words after Blinken concludes ‘candid, substantive and constructive’ meetings in China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s three-day visit to China, during which he had extensive exchanges with Chinese officials, was deemed by Chinese experts as “generally positive and playing a role in stabilizing relations between China and the US,” but observers also believed such a visit by itself cannot fundamentally change the current trend of China-US ties. 

Experts have noted that the five-point consensus reached by the two countries during Blinken’s visit suggested that China has pushed back against US pressure, and helped push both countries to work toward improving relations in line with the consensus made by the top leaders of the two countries in San Francisco.

The key challenge in China-US ties lies in the US still holding the wrong perception of viewing China as a rival or enemy, rather than a partner. The US is currently struggling to break free from its preconceived notions about China, leading to difficulties in setting the right tone for Washington’s policies toward Beijing and managing the US-China relationship effectively. As a result, Chinese experts urged the US to show the courage to accurately identify and correct its misconceptions about China.

‘Candid’ talks

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday evening that talks with Blinken during his visit to China were “candid, substantive and constructive.”

During a courtesy meeting with Blinken on Friday afternoon, Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on China’s authoritative position on China-US relations and proposed guidance, said Yang Tao, director-general of the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of the China’s Foreign Ministry, while briefing the media on Blinken’s visit on Friday evening.

Xi met with Blinken on Friday, and stressed China is willing to cooperate with the US, but cooperation should be a two-way street. “China is not afraid of competition, but competition should be about common progress, not a zero-sum game,” Xi said.

China and the US should be partners rather than rivals; help each other succeed rather than hurt each other; seek common ground and reserve differences rather than engage in vicious competition; and honor words with actions rather than say one thing but do another, said Xi.

Xi said China is committed to non-alliance, and the US should not create small blocs, adding that each side can have its friends and partners, it should not target, oppose or harm the other. 

Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chinese foreign minister, held talks with Blinken on Friday in Beijing, with the two sides reaching a five-point consensus based on a comprehensive exchange of views.

First, both sides agreed to continue to work hard to stabilize and develop China-US relations in accordance with the guidance of the two heads of state. Second, both sides agreed to maintain high-level exchanges and contacts at all levels. 

Third, the two sides announced that they would hold the first meeting of the China-US intergovernmental dialogue on artificial intelligence, continue to advance consultations on the principles guiding China-US relations, hold a new round of China-US consultations on Asia-Pacific affairs and China-US maritime affairs, and continue consular consultations. The two countries’ anti-drug working group will hold a senior officials meeting. 

Fourth, the two sides will take measures to expand cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, welcome students from each other’s countries and work together for the success of the 14th China-US Tourism Leadership Summit to be held in Xi’an in May. Fifth, the two sides will maintain consultations on international and regional hotspot issues and strengthen communication between the special envoys of the two sides. 

From the perspective of advancing the implementation of the agreement made by the two leaders in San Francisco, Blinken’s visit has achieved some positive results, with the five-point consensus reached by both sides essentially continuing the consensus reached by the two leaders in San Francisco, Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times. 

Wu noted that judging from the previous agenda of the visit released by the US, Blinken did not achieve his expected goals. This reflected the different approaches of China and the US in handling bilateral relations. 

The signals sent by the US before Blinken’s departure indicated that Washington had wanted to reset the agenda for China-US relations. However, the five-point consensus reached by both sides showed that the US attempt did not succeed and China’s efforts helped push the two countries to go back to implementing the consensus made by the two leaders in San Francisco, said Wu.

Blinken would also reportedly ask Beijing to avoid taking “provocative” measures during next month’s inauguration of Lai Ching-te, who was elected as Taiwan’s regional leader in January, AFP quoted a US official as saying last week. The US diplomat also planned to raise its “deep concerns regarding the PRC’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base, as well as its human rights abuses and unfair economic and trade practices,” according to previous media reports.

Although the consensus between the two sides on effectively managing their relationship seems to have been largely reached throughout the latest high-level interactions between China and the US, some experts are concerned about whether the US can guarantee that it will effectively manage differences and expand cooperation through action, especially when the US is in the election year. 

“If the US is unable to follow the consensus and fulfill its promises, and even further seeks to contain China due to election politics, encircle China, tarnish China’s image, and interfere in China’s internal affairs, it is very likely to have a negative impact on the future trajectory of China-US relations,” Diao Daming, a professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times. 

Challenges ahead

At the close of his three-day visit to China, Blinken told reporters in a news briefing on Friday that he warned China to “stop exporting materials that allow Russia to rebuild its industrial base,” and also told CNN that Washington has seen evidence of Chinese attempts to “influence and arguably interfere” with the upcoming US elections.

Those remarks are all aimed at the domestic audience in the US, as both issues are often used by the Biden administration as political fodder to hype China-US relations in domestic politics in order to avoid appearing weak on China, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times, noting that as the election approaches, the bilateral relationship will become more fragile.

This view was echoed by Wu. “I think the development of China-US relations in the future will continue to be full of ups and downs, and it is unlikely to truly stabilize or significantly improve. Especially in the year of the 2024 election, the Biden administration will need to show toughness toward China and exert pressure on China to cater to its own interests,” said Wu.

Last week, Biden called on the US Trade Representative to consider tripling the existing Section 301 tariff rate on Chinese steel and aluminum. Earlier this month, he also urged the banning of imports of Chinese-made electric cars to the US.

Biden’s moves are aimed at appealing to certain groups of voters in the US, said Wu, who predicted that there will be more actions aimed at showing toughness and putting pressure on China. “If Biden feels that his election prospects are not good, he may intensify his efforts to play the ‘China card’,” Wu noted.

In the first half of this year, China-US relations can maintain a fragile and unreliable stability, and there will be greater fluctuations in the second half of the year, said Wu.

Source: Global Times