Be it calling China the “most critical challenge” or “most serious competitor”, the terms US President Joe Biden has adopted, although they may sound similar, are subtly different to those employed by his predecessor.
This was reinforced in a CBS interview aired on Sunday in which he said he is not going to deal with China the way his predecessor did, and his administration is focusing on the international rules of the road. Thus, despite his assertion he would “hold China accountable”, he clearly knows it is the policies of the Donald Trump administration that have created the grave situation that threatens to derail Sino-US relations.
With a spokesperson for the State Department affirming the administration adheres to the one-China principle, the necessary keystone for relations is in place, it was good to hear Biden say last week that he is willing to cooperate with China, certainly for US interests.
But breaking the impasse in relations entails a change of policy on the part of Washington, not Beijing. Since he added that, “We need not have a conflict but there is going to be extreme competition”, it is easy to associate that term with Trump’s extreme pressure tactics against China. Which means that although there might be essential differences in the two back-to-back administrations’ approaches to China, the intensity of their approaches could be of the same level.
Despite this, the awareness of the need for self-correction on the part of the US represents crucial progress. Yet, it must be pointed out that although China welcomes this, it has no reasons to feel grateful for it. It was therefore a positive development that the phone call between the countries’ top diplomats on Saturday provided the two sides with a chance to lay their cards on the table in a frank way.
However, there is no escaping the fact, as Yang Jiechi told his US counterpart Antony Blinken, the Sino-US relationship is at a critical moment. Managing their competition will be a difficult challenge, and the only way they can pass that test is by fostering greater mutual trust. And that can only be achieved through unequivocal conversations.
Candid dialogue is the only way to prevent suspicions and misgivings about each other’s actions and intentions from festering into grievances, and also the only way to agree on remedial actions to ease respective concerns. Beijing and Washington have both acknowledged that their differences and divergences are no cause for conflict. Nor are they insurmountable obstacles to cooperation, as long as they can be properly managed.
China’s US policy is consistent, which is why, as Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai told the media on Saturday, the ball is still in the US court. The onus is on the Biden administration to mend what the previous administration so rashly broke. Editorial, China Daily