US’ National Day message to China has notable difference from last year’s

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sent China a congratulatory message on its National Day, in the latest sign of the two powers trying to ease tensions.

“On behalf of the United States of America, I would like to extend our congratulations to the people of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] as the country celebrates its National Day on October 1,” he said in the statement.

“As the United States seeks to work cooperatively to solve the challenges we all face, we wish the people of the PRC peace, happiness and prosperity over the coming year.”

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The message could be the latest sign from Washington that it seeks to ease tensions with China, described by US President Joe Biden as “the most serious competitor”. It is a tradition for the US secretary of state to send a statement on National Day – marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China – but Blinken’s message marked another extension of goodwill from the US side.

In the message last October, then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo notably dropped “PRC” and said the congratulations were to “the people of China”.

“The United States wishes the people of China health, prosperity, happiness and peace in the coming year,” Pompeo said that time.

There have been signs of easing tensions between the two powers in the past week since the US dropped an extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, ending a three-year legal saga and removing one of the biggest thorns in the relationship.

In another indication of goodwill, the US and Chinese militaries on Thursday concluded two days of talks, their second round of high-level defence discussions since Biden entered the White House in January.

But competition between the countries has remained intense. The US and the European Union on Wednesday agreed to deepen transatlantic cooperation to strengthen semiconductor supply chains, while pledging to “work closely together to address non-market, trade-distortive policies and practices, improve the effectiveness of our respective domestic measures” – a veiled reference to China.

Qin Gang, China’s envoy to the US, called on Tuesday for an accelerated joint effort to put relations back on track as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Beijing has ramped up criticism of Aukus, the new military alliance between the US, Britain and Australia, accusing it of trying to provoke rivalry and a resurgence of a cold war mentality.

Lu Xiang, a US-China relations expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that compared with that of Pompeo, it had been a “fairly positive” message from Blinken, who has previously expressed a willingness to work with China to deal with challenges in their relations.

But it was too early to draw optimistic conclusions, Lu said, noting the recent mixed signals from the US officials, including Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo telling CNBC the US needed to work with the European Union to “slow down China’s rate of innovation” days after she told The Wall Street Journal she would seek to improve business ties with China.

“However, I think the US side has realised that a tense relationship with China could take bilateral ties further into uncharted waters,” Lu said.

Speculation is growing over whether the two sides will revive discussions on trade. The phase one trade deal struck between Beijing and the Donald Trump administration in January 2020, in which China agreed to buy an extra US$200 billion of US goods and services over two years, expires at the end of this year.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is expected to make a speech on Monday about the Biden administration’s approach to trade with China.

Lu said the next three months could be the time for Beijing and Washington to break the ice, especially on economic and trade issues.

“If Blinken’s message is interpreted as an expression of goodwill, it could lead to some positive discussions by the end of the year, rather than more of acrimonious meetings this year in Alaska and Tianjin,” he said.

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