China ready to help bring US relations back on right track, Xi Jinping says

Catherine Wong and Amber Wang, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 11 2021 01:24 PM | Updated as of Nov 11 2021 01:28 PM

China "stands ready to work with the United States" to bring relations back on the right track, President Xi Jinping has said, days ahead of a scheduled virtual meeting with US counterpart Joe Biden.

This comes as the two nations seek to reopen lines of communication to ease acrimony and reset bilateral ties, amid continued sparring over Taiwan and US concerns about Beijing's nuclear arsenal.

In a congratulatory letter to the National Committee on US-China Relations, Xi said China "stands ready to work with the United States to enhance exchanges and cooperation across the board", on the basis of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.

China aims to "jointly address regional and international issues as well as global challenges and ... properly manage differences, so as to bring China-US relations back to the right track of sound and steady development", said the letter, read out by US ambassador Qin Gang at the non-profit's annual gala dinner in New York on Tuesday.

Cooperation was the "only right choice" for China-US relations, Xi said in his letter.

Qin, for his part, said China's US policy has been "highly consistent and stable" and Beijing has handled mutual relations from "a strategic and long-term perspective".

Chinese and US officials agreed in principle for the two presidents to hold a virtual meeting before the year-end, following last month's closed-door meeting between China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Switzerland.

The upcoming Xi-Biden summit would set the tone for solid bilateral exchanges on issues including trade and the military, a Chinese government adviser told the South China Morning Post speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sources previously told the Post that US officials had pushed for an in-person Xi-Biden summit but the two sides decided to aim for a video conference instead due to China's strict pandemic control policies.

Reuters and Bloomberg first reported the news of the presidential summit. In response to the reports, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said working-level discussions were under way to confirm details, but declined to offer specifics.

The virtual meeting comes amid simmering tensions over Taiwan and US concerns over China's nuclear capabilities.

People's Liberation Army joint forces on Tuesday conducted combat readiness drills in waters directly across from Taiwan, as a US congressional delegation arrived on the island on a surprise visit slammed by Beijing as "rude interference" in its internal affairs.

Xi and Biden have held two phone conversations since the US president took over in January, as the two sides try to manage their growing rivalry on almost all fronts. Relations have seen signs of gradual improvement in recent months, especially with the Yang-Sullivan meeting, though tensions over Taiwan have remained high.

China's foreign ministry on Wednesday said the two leaders had agreed in their two phone conversations to maintain regular contact in various ways.

"China and the US have currently been in close contact over arrangement details relating to the upcoming summit," ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily press conference in Beijing.

Observers have called on the two powers to seize the limited window for improving relations before new uncertainties arise as US midterm elections approach next year.

"China is expected to have its important domestic political agenda in 2022, (which is) when the US will hold its critical midterm elections," Da Wei, deputy director of Tsinghua University's Centre for International Security and Strategy, said in a recent article published on the centre's official WeChat account.

"Even if everything goes well, the energy and resources that the two sides can invest to support a positive bilateral relationship will decrease by (next) autumn. A lot needs to be done with respect to bilateral ties in the coming months."

A Chinese government adviser, who refused to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said: "The two sides have engaged in finger-pointing on many fronts. They have to see how to rebuild mutual trust. The US has kept containing China and using the Taiwan issue as leverage to pressure China."

Sullivan took a more conciliatory tone towards China in a recent interview with CNN, saying that the US was seeking coexistence, not a cold war. He also dismissed the Trump administration's approach to China, saying the Biden team would not repeat the past errors of trying to transform the country.

But Sullivan also indicated that the US was instead trying to form a coalition of allies and partners to pressure Beijing.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai are planning separate trips to Asia next week to discuss supply chain and tariff reviews with China's neighbours, including Japan.

The flurry of diplomatic engagements follows Biden's announcement of US plans to build "an economic framework that will define our shared objectives with partners in the region".

The government adviser said China and the US needed to negotiate the arrangement on trade and key economic issues after their phase one trade deal expires.

"If trade talks go smoothly, it may help ease tensions in overall relations," he said.

Taiwan was expected to top the agenda at the imminent meeting, with Xi likely to continue pressuring the US side to stop sending out the wrong signals and offering support to the island's "separatist" forces, observers said.

An expert on Taiwan studies in Beijing said the US was rendering its one-China policy "an empty shell", which would damage the cornerstone of bilateral relations.

"What the United States is doing is implementing its version of the one-China policy and supporting Taiwan's secession, which will erode the foundation of Sino-US relations," said the expert, who asked to remain anonymous.

"The United States has acknowledged that there is only one China and it cannot say one thing while doing another," the expert said.

"The US is seeking 'guardrails' with China, but there is a basic issue here, which is that the US must make explicit its position on Taiwan, that the one-China policy cannot be shaken."

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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