Talking about the United States’ relations with China and the Joe Biden administration’s China policies in a Sunday interview with CNN, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the present administration’s goal “is not containment. It’s not a new Cold War”.
Calling the relationship one of “competition”, Sullivan, who has been known for advocating a “clear-eyed coexistence” with China, said attempting to fundamentally transform the Chinese system through US policies was “one of the errors” of the previous US approach to China.
The objective of the Biden administration, in his words, “is not to bring about a fundamental transformation of China itself”.
This may or may not be intended as an official reply to what Beijing set as one of its three “redlines” for relations with Washington, and which Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated during his July meeting with US Deputy State Secretary Wendy Sherman in Tianjin.
But it certainly serves as a significant assurance to Beijing, which has long suspected Washington has a hidden agenda to seek regime change in China, and which has thus been on high alert for any attempts to engineer a “color revolution”.
If there had been an impression of a “peaceful evolution” of China-US relations over the past decades, the Donald Trump administration’s all-round attack on China-US relations rekindled and considerably escalated Beijing’s fear of US pursuit of regime change in China.
While framing China as “increasingly aggressive” in international affairs, the previous US administration launched whole-government assaults on China, openly targeting the Communist Party of China and the Chinese political system, sparking speculation of a new Cold War.
But despite toning down the foreign policy rhetoric, the Biden administration has done little to actually break from the course the previous administration had set. Beijing places considerable weight on the principle of mutual respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs in state-to-state relations, which it believes is essential to fair, equitable international relations.
Sullivan’s latest remarks are important for his Chinese audience. His comments will help decision-makers in Beijing judge Washington’s policy orientation. Taking regime change off the table is such a necessity in Beijing’s preconditions for normal China-US relations that it was the foremost “redline” Beijing drew for Washington. But whether the Biden administration will match its words with deeds or not will determine the future of bilateral ties.
Sullivan’s personal statement that the US is not trying to cross that red line will surely be conducive to reducing mistrust, and hence increase confidence that the two major powers can operate in the international system. But the rub is the US wants that system to be “favorable to American interests and values”, and that makes it unfair to China. Editorial, China Daily