China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi is set to make his first address to an American audience since Joe Biden’s inauguration on Tuesday, with observers expecting him to call for greater dialogue and cooperation between the two sides, and an end to the combative policies favoured by Donald Trump.
The event, titled “A Conversation with Politburo Member Yang Jiechi” will be hosted by the National Committee on US-China Relations. Yang will be introduced by the committee’s chairman and former US treasury secretary Jacob Lew.
“If he extends a plastic olive branch of superficial and vague pleasantries, he’ll receive the same in return, while weakening the credibility of any call for renewed cooperation and genuinely tackling differences,” said Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
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“If he comes with threats and warnings, he should expect to be met with firm resolve,” he said.
“One hopes that, instead, he comes with genuine offers for renewed cooperation that address the concerns of the United States and other countries.”
US officials have already signalled that China will be a central theme of America’s foreign policies under Biden. On Friday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US would respond decisively to Beijing’s aggressive policies on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and elsewhere.
Chinese diplomatic observers said Yang was likely to appeal to the new Biden administration not to follow the hard line chosen by Trump.
“Yang is likely to ask the new US government to remedy the wrong policies adopted by Trump, for example, the restrictions on China in the tech and trade sector,” said Lu Xiang, a specialist on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“He will also warn that the US will bear heavy consequences if it follows the same path as Trump.”
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, said he expected Yang to call for a resumption of dialogue between Beijing and Washington, after a decline in talks during Trump’s time in office.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said Yang was likely to reiterate Beijing’s claim that it has neither the intention nor the capability to challenge the US, while indicating the areas in which the two nations can work together, like climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.
“Yang will also talk about differences that need to be managed, including Taiwan, and the South and East China seas,” Jin said.
“The speech will be a gesture that China wants to cooperate with the US. If there is a similarly positive gesture from the US, then the two sides can discuss the details”.
Yang, who served as China’s ambassador to the US from 2001 to 2005, met former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Hawaii in June. While the seven-hour meeting gave the men an opportunity to air their nations’ grievances, it failed to improve the soured relationship between the two countries.
While Biden and his cabinet members have already been in contact with senior officials across Europe and Asia to renew allegiances and pledge cooperation in countering China, they have yet to speak to leaders in Beijing.
On Friday, Borge Brende, the president of the World Economic Forum, said senior US officials might hold meetings with their Chinese counterparts at the group’s next summit in Singapore in May.
But Jin said it was unlikely senior officials would get together within the first 100 days of the Biden administration, as his China policies would not have been formalised.
Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng
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