Biden needs to ‘find or create occasion’ for talks after China sent message
Published: Feb 08, 2021 10:43 PM

Biden Photo: CFP

 US President Joe Biden has conveyed a clearer message regarding his China policy after Chinese senior diplomats sent a series of messages seeking to repair bilateral ties through different channels in recent days. Since Biden highlights both "extreme competition" and "international rules," Chinese experts said China welcomes healthy competition, but the question is: would the US like to make the rules in conjunction with China or force China to follow the rules set by the US and its allies?  

After his speech at the Department of State, Biden revealed more about his foreign policy, including China-related policy, at an interview with CBS News that was released on Monday. "I'm not going to do it the way Trump did. We are going to focus on the international rules of the road" and "We need not have a conflict, but there is going to be extreme competition," he noted.

Biden also said "we haven't had occasion to talk to one another yet," regarding calling Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that there would be "a whole lot to talk about." Biden said further "I know him pretty well," explaining that when he was the vice president of the US, he spent more time with Xi than any world leader before.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a routine press conference on Monday that the two leaders had contact several times in the past, and maintaining communications at different levels between China and the US is conducive to mutual understanding and development of bilateral ties.

Chinese experts noted that right now, China has completed sending messages for cooperation with the US, saying the Biden administration has got the signal, and now it's US turn to show its sincerity and make the next move. The earlier the administration takes action, the better it will be for the US to solve its problems at home, but many analysts said Biden is still not ready for a long chat, with the looming Lunar New Year being a potentially ideal occasion.

Healthy competition?

Chinese analysts said although the possibility of cooperation returns, there is no doubt that the China-US relationship is in a competition period. Biden has also given a positive response to China, because the president said he will not conduct ties "the way Trump did," while Chinese senior diplomats have harshly criticized the policies held by the previous administration.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Monday that according to the remarks or works made by Biden and the key members of his foreign affairs team, "competition" means the US wants to get its own things done and let the world regain confidence in its system and values.

"This is good news. The competition has boundaries and rules, so it's easier for both sides to manage divergences. Confrontation or conflict would force the two sides to cause harm upon each other, which could spiral out of control at some point," Jin said.

Under Biden's rule, the actions that aimed to harm China but brought no benefit to the US , like the trade war, the closure of the consulate and pushing decoupling with China are unlikely to happen again, but this is not because Biden wants to play nice, but US establishment elites desire to beat China via competition, unwilling to abandon the benefits they receive from China, experts noted.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, said "China isn't afraid of competition and welcomes healthy competition, so there would be a 'peaceful race.' China has the confidence to join and let's see who can do better to serve their own people and solve problems for other countries, as long as the US can return to rationality."

But the question is "based on what rules?"  Lü Xiang, an expert in US studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times that the rules for competition should be written by both sides rather than forcing China to accept the rules written by the US, which are unfair. Certain old rules made by the West have proved ineffective or inefficient when new challenges come, like managing the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

China has the legitimacy and strength to be a rule-maker at present. Developing countries do need a voice in the rule-making process, rather than unconditionally obey the rules made by Washington and its allies, said Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai. "US decision-makers need to answer this - are they ready to make or reform the rules with China together?"

Shen said to the Global Times "What if the international rules don't serve US hegemonic interests or selfishness? Just like the existing rules of the WHO and the WTO, the Paris Agreement, the Iranian nuclear deal, would the US make compromises to serve the greater good for the rest of the world when it finds difficulties following the rules? When it fails to do so, would it withdraw or play unilaterally again?"

A new year blessing?

Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said in an interview with Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN on Saturday that "there is a clear need for a good sense of mutual respect. People have to show good will and good faith," while answering the question about his comment on the talk between Chinese top official for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the request of the latter, earlier on the same day. 

Cui said the readout released by the US Department of State on the talk "shows the example of power rather than the power of example."

"Of course, all countries have values and interests to defend. For China, national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, these are the core values and core interests we will defend, we will do whatever it takes to defend them, no matter who says what," Cui noted.

Shen said China "is not anxious at all as it waits for the US to make its next move. Biden said he hasn't had the occasion to talk, but he and his team need to understand 'who damaged ties first should make the next move to fix them.' If Biden wants to talk, he can create the opportunity by removing some 'stumbling blocks' mentioned by Chinese senior diplomat Yang previously."

At the dialogue with the National Committee on US-China Relations, Yang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, said "I hope that the new administration will remove stumbling blocks regarding people-to-people exchanges, like harassing Chinese students, restricting Chinese media outlets, shutting down Confucius Institutes and suppressing Chinese companies."

Li said that though China is not anxious, the Biden administration should be, as if it doesn't deliver on its new measures such as epidemic control and on climate change by 2022, the Republicans are likely to retake the control of the Congress, and the Democrats could be defeated by Republicans in 2024. 

"On fighting COVID-19 and climate change, China can provide more support to the US than American allies. Repairing ties with China is more important than fixing US-led alliances. Biden should make his move as soon as possible otherwise China's patience and sincerity won't last forever."

Cui said to Zakaria in the interview that "we very much welcome the US to rejoin us. But honestly, many people are asking themselves: Will the US change its policy in a few years' time again? Hopefully, this will not be the case."

Li said Biden will find a natural occasion soon as the Lunar New Year approaches, and whether to the Chinese people or to President Xi, the US president needs to seize this occasion.

"But if he's not ready due to handicaps within his team or influence from the anti-China conservative groups in the US, or he hasn't reached a consensus with US allies on how to deal with China, Biden would just let the occasion slip," Shen said.