China Daily

Change-or-ruin mindset main obstacle to economic talks making any real progress

Although the exchanges between the two sides at the Third China-US Economic Working Group Meeting that concluded on Tuesday in Beijing were described as “in-depth, candid, pragmatic and constructive”, it is almost impossible that any breakthroughs will be forthcoming on any major issues it covered.

In fact, the only major reported outcome of the meeting is that the two sides have agreed to continue to maintain communication. It indicates that the development of bilateral ties is restrained by the Joe Biden administration’s insistence on an approach which it claims is “competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be”, when in fact it seeks to squeeze the space for collaboration by prioritizing the other two facets of the prism through which it views bilateral relations.

Indeed, it seems that the only reason the US side is still cooperating with China at all is because it is not yet ready to try and decouple in certain areas as it has not yet found an alternative to China.

The turning point came after the US realized that its efforts, “implied or explicit, to shape or change the PRC over several decades” had not succeeded, as US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a speech on the future of US-China relations on Jan 30. For the US, the sole point of Sino-US engagement has been to “change” China to the US’ liking.

The other important realization the US side has come to regarding China, which determines the exchanges between them even on the economic and trade fronts but are unlikely to make a difference in the overall situation, is that China’s development achievements are the result of either the US’ condescending gifts or of China exploiting the global market system led and designed by the US.

Given China’s indispensable and tremendous contributions to the prosperity, stability and growth of the world economy and market, the actual situation could be deemed to be the opposite — it is the US, as well as some other developed countries, that have benefited unfairly from the opening-up of China first as a source of rich mineral resources, raw materials and cheap labor, and then as a large market and efficient manufacturing base, and a reliable source of investment and talents.

After the US realized China was not going to “change”, it started approaching bilateral ties from the perspective of a zero-sum game mentality. An important reason why the US still finds it imperative to come back to the table on economic and trade issues, climate change and even security concerns with China is that it keeps butting up against the fallacy of that mentality — the US’ losses are not necessarily China’s gains, and vice versa. In most cases, it is the US side that bears the brunt of its China containment strategy which is a lose-lose scenario.

Unless Washington discards its zero-sum mentality and its change-it-or-ruin-it mindset, bilateral dialogue such as the economic and trade meeting will be nothing more than a talk shop.

Editorial, China Daily

Categories China Daily Opinion