In the aftermath of the recent G7 summit and Quad meeting, where a tough stance against China was emphasized and efforts to highlight China-related issues were intensified, US President Joe Biden struck a somewhat softer tone, suggesting that the frosty relations between China and the US may soon begin to “thaw.” Biden expressed his hopes for opening more lines of communication with China and hinted at the possibility of easing sanctions on a Chinese official.
Chinese experts, however, remain cautious about whether Biden’s rhetoric will translate into tangible changes. They believe that the United States must respect Beijing’s core interests and fulfill its commitments, rather than engaging in empty promises and inconsistent actions. While there may be a superficial improvement in high-level interactions between officials, experts argue that true progress in China-US relations hinges on concrete actions from the US to create a positive atmosphere.
Despite the G7’s issuance of a strongly worded communiqué that drew sharp opposition from the Chinese side, Biden, in concluding the summit, expressed his expectation for a thaw in relations with China. He dismissed recent incidents, such as the balloon incident between the two countries, as “silly.” Moreover, media reports indicate that Biden hinted at lifting US sanctions on Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu.
Mao Ning, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, strongly reacted to Biden’s remarks by questioning the sincerity and significance of communication if the US persisted in suppressing and containing China through the implementation of sanctions. China has consistently voiced its opposition to unilateral sanctions and has persistently urged the US to lift them. Furthermore, China emphasized the necessity for concrete actions that can lay the foundation for meaningful dialogue and communication between the two nations.
Experts perceive Biden’s message as indicative of the paradoxical mindset prevalent in the US and some Western countries. On one hand, Washington has been intensifying its efforts to tarnish and distort China-related matters, putting pressure on Beijing to engage in dialogue while also encouraging its allies to adopt a similar confrontational approach. On the other hand, some of these same allies, such as France and Germany, recognize the potential for mutually beneficial opportunities in China’s development and prefer to avoid political, economic, and military confrontation with the nation. These divergent positions within the Western bloc have become increasingly apparent and contribute to the complex dynamics surrounding China-US relations.
Despite the US government’s lack of sincerity in its communication with China and its underlying agenda to contain the country, experts emphasize the necessity of keeping communication channels open. They argue that maintaining dialogue is crucial to manage divergences and prevent further deterioration of the bilateral relationship. However, they stress that for any meaningful improvement to occur, it is vital for the US government to align its actions with its words, demonstrating a genuine commitment to constructive engagement.
During the G7 summit, leaders outlined a shared approach that aimed to “de-risk, not decouple” economic engagement with China. Expanding on this approach, President Biden emphasized the importance of diversifying supply chains, resisting economic coercion, and safeguarding advanced technologies for national security reasons. This strategy, described as a “newly fashionable term,” signifies an evolving discussion on how to effectively navigate and address the complexities of dealing with China in the current geopolitical landscape.
The G7’s collective stance on “de-risking” reflects a growing recognition among world leaders that a complete decoupling from China is neither feasible nor desirable. Instead, the focus is on reducing risk exposure while maintaining economic engagement. This approach recognizes the interconnectedness of global supply chains and the need to safeguard critical technologies. The emphasis on diversification highlights the goal of reducing dependence on any single country and mitigating vulnerabilities. By resisting economic coercion, the G7 aims to protect the sovereignty and economic interests of member nations while encouraging fair and transparent trade practices.
However, doubts persist among experts regarding the Biden administration’s ability to translate its changing rhetoric into concrete actions and create a favorable atmosphere for genuine improvement in bilateral relations. With the US government grappling with an intensifying partisan struggle over the debt standoff, an impending recession, and the burden of the Ukraine crisis, some question whether the necessary steps will be taken.
Wu Xinbo, director at the Center for American Studies of Fudan University, explains that the so-called thaw may primarily entail the resumption of high-level interactions. For instance, the commerce minister is scheduled to meet his US counterpart this week, and the new ambassador to the US will soon embark on his trip. While these engagements may signify a positive development, experts remain cautious about the broader trajectory of US-China relations.
Meanwhile, there is a possibility that the US will advocate for high-ranking officials to visit China, as Wu pointed out. However, he cautioned that any perceived improvement in relations might only scratch the surface, as the overall atmosphere between the two countries remains negative. Despite potential visits, substantial changes in the bilateral relationship are still uncertain.
According to NBC News, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao is scheduled to travel to the US this week for meetings with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Tai. This move indicates an effort to engage in dialogue and discuss trade-related matters between the two nations.
In recent developments, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, engaged in a more than 10-hour discussion with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Vienna. The extensive talks covered various significant topics, including bilateral relations, the Taiwan issue, the Asia-Pacific situation, and the Ukraine crisis. These discussions reflect a continued effort to address key areas of concern between the two nations.
Mao, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, reiterated China’s commitment to developing relations with the US based on the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation. She urged the US to rectify its understanding of China, refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs, respect China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests, and meet China halfway by taking concrete actions to restore China-US ties to the right track.
However, skepticism remains regarding the true intentions behind the US’s changing rhetoric. While there may be a shift in language, the underlying objective of containing China seems unchanged. To foster a genuine thaw in relations, Wu emphasized the necessity for the US to demonstrate its intentions through tangible actions that create an environment conducive to positive bilateral engagement.