Rules of China-US interaction show key changes
Published: Nov 22, 2022 07:53 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The recently concluded 2022 G20 Leaders' Summit was highly anticipated, and the most noteworthy one was undoubtedly the meeting between the heads of state of China and the US. 
China has just completed the agenda of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The process of national rejuvenation and global governance has entered a new stage. "Chinese modernization" has been proposed at the 20th CPC National Congress, which is an integrated system of all basic elements of Chinese civilization and modernization development elements.
However, for the Western system, which is accustomed to Western-style modernization and its hegemonic dividends, "Chinese modernization" and its prospects cannot be easily accepted. Preventing or even blocking China's national rejuvenation process is regarded by war hawks as the most critical battle in the defense of Western hegemony. Accordingly, the political significance of the meeting between the two heads of state is particularly important, but if one thinks that a single meeting can solve the structural difficulties of the escalating struggle in bilateral relations, it will not age well from a historical perspective. 
The US is used to drawing lines for China, but in Bali, China drew lines for the US. The differences are that the US drew the line of hegemonic interests, while China drew the line of sovereign interests. The ability to draw lines reflects both sovereign strength and global governance capabilities. This shows that the rules of interaction between China and the US have undergone key changes. 
"The Taiwan question is at the very core of China's core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations," President Xi Jinping said during his meeting with Biden. This is an unprecedented shift in tone, as well as a new type of major power diplomacy.
In addition to drawing the bottom line, China also proposes specific rules and elements for interactions on Taiwan question: 
First, resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China's internal affairs. China has the right to resolve it in its own independent way, and external forces, including the US, have no right to intervene.
Second, anyone that seeks to split Taiwan from China will be violating the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation.
Third, the US should assume the responsibility of restraining "Taiwan independence" forces and to provide support for all legal actions taken by China to sanction "Taiwan independence" forces. 
Fourth, China hopes that the US side will match its words with action and abide by the one-China principle and the three joint communiques.
In terms of rhetoric and diplomatic logic, President Joe Biden responded positively and affirmatively. Although Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized the need to establish guardrails with China to avoid open conflict, and avoided using blatantly aggressive words, its actual actions are almost the same as those of the war hawks.
The so-called guardrail may not be translated into a realistic mechanism and binding framework. The US' softer stance toward China is due to the fact that it is mired in the quagmire of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global governance challenges, and multiple domestic conflicts, and its strength is dwindling. It has to change its strategy accordingly, and its demand for cooperation with China has expanded to a certain extent.
There are rational and pragmatic forces within the Biden administration, but it is also under strong pressure from the hawks. Whether the above positive signals can really build resilient strategic guardrails for bilateral relations, however, remains a doubtful prospect.
Since the Biden administration took office, the two heads of state have met virtually and exchanged views, but the actual implementation has been much less effective. Whether this meeting is a turning point in the structural détente and rapprochement of China-US relations or another routine diplomatic interaction of a more symbolic than substantive nature, it will need to be carefully observed. For China, complete reunification across the Taiwan Straits cannot simply rely on Taiwan island but must rely on Chinese people on both sides of the Straits as a whole. That we clarify our bottom line is a signal that what we engage is a just fight. A clear bottom line is a rational choice to manage extreme risks and crises.
Now the pressure of choice has been passed to the US. It is unclear whether the US will act responsibly, pursue the Cold War route, or even take extreme risks to turn Taiwan into the second Ukraine. It is where the future structural risks of China-US relations lie.
The author is a legal expert at Beihang University in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn