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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

US-China High-Level Engagements: A New Era of Diplomatic Momentum?

ChinaUS-China High-Level Engagements: A New Era of Diplomatic Momentum?

High-level engagement momentum between the US and China remains robust, evident from several meetings between top officials from both nations over the weekend in Malta. These interactions were marked by candidness, substance, and a constructive approach, aiming to stabilize and enhance bilateral relations. Observers note that this opens the door for potential future engagements between the respective heads of state, particularly after the US adopted a more positive and communicative approach in its recent dealings with China.

Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, had discussions with the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. Their meetings over two days revolved around the agreement to sustain high-level interactions and consult on topics such as Asia-Pacific concerns, maritime issues, and broader foreign policy.

These talks followed several high-profile US visits to China, including that of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June, Special Climate Envoy John Kerry’s Beijing trip, a visit by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in July, and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s tour in late August. Experts posit that the Wang-Sullivan dialogue synthesized the high-level engagements of recent months, prompting contemplation on the future trajectory of the bilateral relationship.

Chinese Foreign Ministry insiders highlighted the expansive discussions on multiple subjects: US-China ties, the Taiwan situation, the Asia-Pacific context, and the Ukraine crisis, spanning over 12 hours. Taiwan emerged as the most discussed topic.

Despite indications from some US media about the purpose of these talks being to ensure a leaders’ meet at the forthcoming APEC summit in November, Chinese analysts believe it’s still a topic under negotiation. There’s a consensus that the US needs to foster a conducive environment for such a meeting.

While the essence of the US stance on China remains consistent, there have been strategic shifts. These include improved communication and gestures intended to foster better relations. But experts contend that tangible outcomes, especially post high-level US visits to China, are yet to manifest. More initiative from the US side is required.

The Wang-Sullivan dialogue was candid, substantial, and positive. There’s a mutual commitment to uphold the consensus from the 2022 Bali summit in Indonesia. The aim is to maintain these interactions, further stabilizing and enhancing the US-China relationship.

Both parties are keen on consultations regarding Asia-Pacific affairs, maritime issues, and foreign policy. They are also exploring opportunities for dialogue in artificial intelligence and encouraging mutual personnel exchanges.

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, commented on the cautious phrasing of the communication summaries from both sides. This restraint highlights the objective to summarize previous high-level interactions and contemplate future moves.

Another significant takeaway is the mutual interest in reinstating military dialogue between the US and China. This sentiment was reinforced by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, debunking a rumor about a so-called Chinese spy balloon. Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, saw this as a potential pivot point for enhanced military communication.

The US legislative realm is also showing signs of openness towards China. Notably, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is organizing a bipartisan congressional delegation visit to China, Japan, and South Korea. Schumer, known for his hard stance on China, aims to foster understanding and potentially a more collaborative approach.

However, Lü Xiang adds a note of caution, stating that despite the frequency of these high-level interactions, tangible results are still pending. The commitment from the US to realize these outcomes remains ambiguous.

Discussing the anticipated APEC summit in November, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning expressed China’s regard for APEC’s role and willingness to engage for a successful summit. Official details about China’s participation will be shared in due course.

Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, sees the commitment to ongoing high-level exchanges as encouraging. He emphasizes that for any potential leaders’ meet, the US needs to establish a more positive atmosphere.

Experts underline the importance of both nations understanding each other’s stances in the evolving global scenario and responsibly managing differences. A more pronounced effort from the US in demonstrating its commitment could pave the way for future leader interactions.

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