Frequent China-US high-level meetings show consensus for avoiding escalating tension, while US is urged to honor its words
Published: Jul 08, 2022 10:03 PM
China US Photo: VCG

China US Photo: VCG

A sequence of frequent interactions between senior officials from China and the US since June, including a scheduled meeting between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Bali on Saturday, have underscored the two sides' consensus on avoiding escalating confrontations, and may help create better atmosphere for a potential top leaders' meeting, analysts have claimed, urging the US to take more concrete actions, rather than just lip service, to reduce twists and turns impacting bilateral relations. 

As agreed by China and the US, Wang will meet with Blinken on the sidelines of the G20 meeting on current China-US relations and major international and regional issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday. 

Two days before Wang and Blinken's meeting, Chief of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, General Li Zuocheng, spoke on Thursday night with US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, at the latter's invitation.

The recent interactions between senior officials from China and the US have been made to implement the consensus reached by the top leaders on March 18 and to set guardrails for the bilateral relationship given increasing frictions, Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.

Talks between high-level officials from China and the US in many fields will also help create a good atmosphere for a top leaders' meeting, analysts said, noting that US President Joe Biden was cited by media in June as saying that he would plan to talk with President Xi Jinping, while no information has been released from the Chinese side.

Previously, on March 18, Chinese President Xi held a video call with Biden at the request of the latter during which the top leaders directed their team to follow up and take concrete actions to put China-US relations back on the track of steady development, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

There have been frequent interactions between senior officials of China and the US over the last two months. On military affairs, aside from the Thursday meeting between Li and Milley, on June 10, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe had his first face-to-face meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin

Later on June 13, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Luxembourg. And on July 5, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, also a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and chief of the Chinese side of the China-US comprehensive economic dialogue, held a video conversation with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the latter's request, according to Xinhua. 

Implementing the consensus reached by top leaders of China and the US has been mentioned during the four meetings of senior officials, according to the releases from the Chinese side. 

The exchanges on military, trade and diplomatic topics aim to avoid China-US relations falling into destructive and strategic confrontations - this is also the shared need and a bottom line, Yang stated.

Yang noted that the series of exchanges also sent a strong signal that although the problems between China and the US are very complicated and acute, the two sides still have the willingness to control disputes and take actions to improve communications across many fields. 

However, analysts also pointed out that the frequent meetings and frequently mentioned topics show the current tense situation facing bilateral relations and in which fields the main disputes exist. 

By reviewing the readouts and releases of the previous four meetings, the Global Times found that questions of the island of Taiwan and the Ukraine crisis had been mentioned repeatedly especially during meetings between military officials. 

Many military experts reached by the Global Times said that after the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the US has ramped up efforts in hyping the Taiwan question and the US and its allies have been conducting frequent close-in reconnaissance operations close to China's territorial waters, which have increased the risk of clashes across the Straits and in the region. 

"The US is worried that a frontline standoff may cause an unexpected clash and lead to escalating confrontations. By increasing high-level talks of the two militaries, the US hopes to know China's bottom line and the information about the Chinese military," one anonymous military expert said. 

China-US relations are at a very crucial period and it is better to have more communication than blocking voices from each other especially at a military level. Both Wei and Li had reiterated China's stance on the question of the island of Taiwan, which will remind the US about China's redline, military experts said. 

The questions of the island of Taiwan as well as the Ukraine crisis will also be topics for Wang and Blinken's meeting on Saturday. To maintain communications on such thorny and complicated issues is the main purpose of the meeting, Yang Xiyu said.

According to the releases on the previous four meetings from the Chinese side, Chinese officials have mentioned Biden's remarks from two separate meetings that the US does not seek a new Cold War or aim to change China's system, nor will it oppose China through strengthening alliances, support "Taiwan independence" or intend to seek a conflict with China, which analysts said showed China attaches great importance to these statements and urges the US to fulfill its promises. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that he had predicted such frequent high-level interactions to happen in the last quarter of 2021. But the US may have postponed the plan to firstly take action against Russia with the purpose of gaining leverage when talking with China. 

However, the US' previous plan to bring down Russia quickly, which in itself was naïve, has failed and under the current situation, it has to be engaged in a string of talks with China, Lü told the Global Times.

China has always welcomed exchanges with the US at all levels but also hoped the US could take concrete actions to promote bilateral relations and decrease twists and turns, instead of only repeating its rhetoric, said Lü.

The expert noted that it seems that many US officials - who supposedly should play an important role in the government, have been marginalized, including Yellen. The chaos within the US government is not normal and Biden is relying on people from a very small circle, which may lead to an intentionally unpredictable situation. Lü noted that he is not that optimistic about the meeting between Wang and Blinken. 

The accumulated problems between China and the US cannot be all solved within one meeting and the recent interactions as well as Wang and Blinken's upcoming meeting on Saturday all aim to stabilize the situation for bilateral relations, Yang said. 

"Whether the bilateral relations between two major powers are good or bad is important, but a more important thing is to see whether their relations are mature," said Yang. 

The most urgent issue is to turn China-US relations into a mature exchange - how to avoid destroying bilateral relations due to specific events is a test of each side's wisdom as well as of their sense of responsibility, Yang said.