China-US relationship needs ‘cool heads and new strategy’ from Beijing

·4-min read

China needs to stay cool-headed in formulating its new strategy to engage with the US and avoid an emotional handling of disputes that could lead to bigger problems, Chinese state media said in the wake of two high-level talks between the two countries.

A commentary by Taoran Notes – a social media account affiliated with the state-run Economic Daily, used by Beijing to manage expectations on China-US trade talks – said both countries had responded emotionally when tensions were running high, but it was now necessary to calm down, especially as confrontations would not ease soon.

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“Don’t be emotional when dealing with problems, also don’t be complacent about small achievements, and it is even more important to avoid incurring real misfortune by chasing false reputation,” it said, following discussions between China’s economic tsar, Vice-Premier Liu He, and senior US officials – Trade Representative Katherine Tai last week, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday.

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In Beijing, the talks were seen as a sign that economics and trade are the cornerstone to keeping deteriorating China-US relations stable.

“China and the United States quarrelled and fought fiercely for a while. But after trying all the ways of getting along – except cooperation – China and the United States finally chose the path of cooperation that seeks common ground while reserving differences,” Taoran Notes said.

“China and the United States need to have a deeper understanding of each other’s strengths and intentions, and they need to form a better way of getting along with each other according to the new situation.”

The talks were held after a nine-month hiatus which saw the two countries’ differences affect almost every aspect of bilateral relations.

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The US has slapped sanctions on China over Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and challenged Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. The United States Senate has also advanced a bill that would provide billions of dollars in government funding for technology research as part of a broader legislative effort to counter China.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed tensions still higher, as the US has renewed calls for an investigation to determine whether the coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab. China’s foreign ministry responded by once again suggesting the Fort Detrick military base in Maryland should be probed.

Beijing is also pushing back against US efforts to form a coalition against its policies in Xinjiang, leading to China and the European Union imposing sanctions on each other and a freeze by the European Parliament on ratification of a China-EU investment deal.

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“The international environment facing China is worsening, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert with the Ocean University of China.

Pang said China needed to find a new way to engage with the US, rather than resorting to tough rhetoric. While the Biden administration is still formulating its China policies, Pang said Beijing was also reviewing its approach towards Washington.

“China hopes the damage to the bilateral ties with the US can be repaired through the talks, when Biden is still making his policies,” Pang said. “If we walk all the way to confrontation, it would only lead to major conflicts and a new cold war that China does not want to see.”

Pang said China hoped to set up more dialogue with the US. That task may not be easy, as the US did not agree with Beijing’s description of talks between their top diplomats in Alaska in March as strategic dialogue, but Beijing could push for talks on specific issues, such as climate change. “Beijing will continue using market and economic issues to stabilise ties with the US,” he said.

In a sign that Beijing was aware of the hostile external environment it faces, President Xi Jinping highlighted the need to “create a favourable external public opinion environment” and strengthen communications “under the new situation” to secure its rise at a Communist Party Politburo study session on Monday.

Chinese observers said his latest call was an admission of Beijing’s isolation that had been exacerbated by aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy and ineffective propaganda and influence campaigns abroad.

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