Time for a reset in US-China relations, Foreign Minister Wang Yi says

Sarah Zheng, South China Morning Post

Posted at Dec 07 2020 08:12 PM

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on Monday for Beijing and Washington to resume dialogue to reset ties between the major powers after months of increasing hostility, ahead of the incoming US administration under president-elect Joe Biden.

Speaking during a video dialogue with the board of the US-China Business Council (USCBC), Wang gave suggestions to improve the countries’ tumultuous ties, including strengthening communication at all levels and expanding areas of cooperation – such as getting the coronavirus pandemic under control.

The USCBC represents American companies that do business in China and seeks to promote bilateral trade.
“The most urgent task currently is for the two sides to work together to remove all sorts of barriers to achieve a smooth transition in China-US relations,” Wang said, according to a brief on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

“At the same time, based on the direction of mutual benefits for our two peoples and countries, we need to strive to restart dialogue, return to the right track and rebuild trust in this next phase of relations.”

Biden is set to assume the presidency on January 20, succeeding US President Donald Trump, whose administration has been known for its particularly hawkish China policy – including international lobbying against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, launching a trade war with China, and sanctioning Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Observers say they expect tensions to continue under Biden, who is expected to work more with US allies to tackle China even as his approach may leave more room for cooperation on issues such as climate change and health care.

While Trump has mounted legal challenges to the November election result, Biden is slated to enter the White House as expected next month.

Wang on Monday blamed the “outdated Cold War mentality and ideological prejudices” of some in the US as a core reason for deteriorating relations, and decried the perception of China as an opponent or enemy.

“Engaging in comprehensive containment against China, and even advocating for ‘decoupling’ and a ‘new Cold War’, this is making a historical, directional and strategic error,” he said. “We expect and believe that the US’ China policy will return to objectivity and rationality sooner or later.”

China’s top diplomat struck a more conciliatory tone in his remarks overall, calling for the two sides to strengthen cooperation within multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Trump withdrew the US from the WHO, in part over concerns that China had too much influence.

But Wang also reiterated Beijing’s line for the US not to “intervene in China’s internal affairs”, a frequent accusation in response to US criticism and sanctions for Chinese actions in places like Xinjiang and the South China Sea.

“For problems that cannot be immediately resolved, we need to maintain a constructive attitude to manage the situation to avoid intensifying and escalating the overall situation of China-US relations,” Wang said.

He also encouraged the US business community to play a larger role in improving relations between the two countries.

Tensions between China and the US have flared in recent months over Beijing’s initial cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak, an ongoing trade and technology spat, ideological clashes, competing interests globally and in international institutions, and over Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Analysts said it was not realistic to expect a reset in bilateral relations any time soon.

Wei Zongyou, a professor specialising in China-US relations at Fudan University, said Wang’s words were a show of goodwill from Beijing to the incoming Biden administration, but there had been a fundamental bipartisan shift in attitudes towards China.

“So Biden will not dare to show weakness or friendliness on the China issue,” he said. “On the other hand, Biden will have to deal with thorny domestic issues such as the pandemic and economic recovery, easing racial conflict and political polarisation, and will prioritise repairing relations with allies in his foreign policy. We may have to wait until the second half of next year for any opportunities for an engagement or reset for China-US relations.”

A Beijing-based scholar, who asked not to be named given political sensitivities, said the side taking the initiative to “extend an olive branch” would depend on the area.

“In terms of people-to-people and cultural exchanges, the US has crossed certain lines so it should be more proactive in reaching out here,” he said. “As for issues with Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and human rights, the Chinese side should be more gentle … but the authorities will not be making any concessions.”