Amidst a noticeable uptick in high-level interactions between the U.S. and China, the world is closely watching to see if recent engagements across various sectors can signal a warmer phase in their bilateral ties. These events indicate a glimmer of hope, although the uncertainty in U.S.-China relations still lingers.
The U.S. Congressional Visit to Asia
On Thursday, the White House voiced its endorsement for an upcoming trip to China, Japan, and South Korea, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. This marks a significant milestone as Schumer’s trip will be the first congressional visit to China in four years, underlining unique dynamics in their recent high-level interactions.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House spokesperson, commenting on this trip, stated, “We support, certainly, their engagement in the region.”
However, Schumer’s stance towards China has historically been critical. Earlier this year, he urged U.S. lawmakers to initiate legislation addressing concerns about China’s booming economy. Notably, Schumer’s trip follows several visits by Biden administration officials, most recently, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in August.
China has responded positively. The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed its optimism about Schumer’s visit, stating their hope that it would enhance the U.S. Congress’s perception of China. They also anticipate that this visit would foster dialogue and potentially become a driving factor in the growth of bilateral relations.
Li Haidong, a renowned professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, highlighted the importance of this visit. He commented to the Global Times, “I believe that both sides will make some progress in the legislative exchanges that have been troubling their relationship.” Li underscored the potential benefits of closer communication between the top legislative bodies of both nations. Such engagements could avert major disruptions to the foundational stability of their relationship.
A Shift in Diplomatic Interactions
Expert opinions suggest that the U.S. Congress seems to be aligning with the Biden administration’s approach towards China. Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, noted a mutual intent for increased dialogue. He shared with the Global Times, “Not only will more U.S. officials visit China for dialogue and exchanges, but more Chinese officials will also make visits to the U.S. to enhance communication.”
In addition to these interactions, there is significant speculation around Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s expected visit to Washington. This is seen as a precursor to a potential leaders’ meeting during the forthcoming APEC summit. Reports suggest that the White House is preparing for an in-person meeting between the top leaders of the U.S. and China in San Francisco. Such engagements indicate a mutual drive to mend their strained ties.
Li Haidong provided insights into these diplomatic overtures, suggesting that the Biden administration might be using these announcements to showcase their commitment to strengthening relations with China. Li further posited that should a proposed leaders’ meeting not materialize, Washington might use it as an opportunity to shift blame onto Beijing.
Biden’s China Policy: A Closer Look
Despite these interactions, some Chinese experts believe that the recent modifications to the Biden administration’s China policy are tactical rather than strategic.
Wu Xinbo emphasized, “They have strengthened communication and dialogue, aiming to address specific issues within the bilateral relationship.” However, Wu also noted that the foundational direction of Biden’s China policy seems to remain constant. The U.S. still views China as its primary strategic adversary, and its policy of constraining and pressuring China under the pretense of competition remains largely unaltered.
Potential Meeting Between Heads of State: Factors at Play
The viability of a summit between the leaders of the U.S. and China is contingent on several considerations. Experts argue that the U.S. must demonstrate genuine efforts, especially since China has clearly articulated its concerns.
Wu emphasized the importance of the Taiwan issue, stating, “The U.S. has to fulfill its promises.” He urged the U.S. to not just give lip service but to genuinely adhere to the one-China principle and oppose Taiwan’s ‘independence’.
Trade and technology are other crucial domains. Wu pointed out that the U.S. should reconsider its additional tariffs on Chinese products, adjust export controls on Chinese firms, and lift certain sanctions on over 1,000 Chinese entities. Wu concluded by suggesting that the onus is now on the U.S. to show its sincerity.
While the current surge in U.S.-China engagements is a positive sign, it’s clear that substantial uncertainties remain. Both nations have historical differences, and genuine efforts are needed to bridge those gaps. Whether these interactions signal a transient thaw or a long-term warming trend in their relations remains to be seen.