Biden's political will to improve US-China ties remains questionable
US diplomat's 'beautiful words' can't hide the intention of containing China: experts
Published: May 03, 2023 08:33 PM
China US

China US. Photo: GT

Despite that the US envoy to China released a message that Washington is ready to talk to Beijing in an apparent soft rhetoric by rejecting a cold war between the world's two largest economies and called "decoupling" unhealthy and "not smart," some Chinese observers said on Wednesday that China should not be enticed by those "beautiful words" as the key to changing the downward spiral of the US-China relations is whether the US government has enough political will to improve the bilateral ties and turn its words into action. 

Speaking at a virtual event held by the Washington-based think tank Stimson Center on Tuesday, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said the US is ready to hold high-level talks with China and wants to forge better communication channels between the two countries, NBC reported. 

US' relationship with China remains "complicated" and competitive, but Washington does not seek conflict with Beijing and believes more dialogue would be constructive, Burns said. 

Burns' remarks are considered as "follow-up" comments made after some senior US officials had elaborated on the US-China relations that is seen as the most consequential and most complex one. After US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on April 20 that the two countries "can and need to find a way to live together," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on April 27 at the US think tank Brookings Institution that the US is not looking to "decouple" its economy from China's. 

"Yellen, Sullivan and Burns all emphasized dialogue but they did not mention anything about correcting the wrongdoings of the Biden administration, for example, about the [US-launched] trade war or tech restrictions [against China]," Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

This shows that on one hand, the US government has no explicit intension of giving up its wrongdoings, on the other hand, it also has concerns that China would take countermeasures if they continue exerting much more pressure on questions such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, South China Sea and fentanyl, Lü said. "Burns' remarks serve to 'test the water' to see to what extent China will accommodate their policies," he noted.  

The US-China relations have become more intense, especially after the US shot down a Chinese airship for civilian use in February, which was described by Chinese diplomats and experts as "hysterical and absurd." Following the airship incident, the US-announced China visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was canceled, according to US media reports, although the Chinese side didn't confirm such visit.   

In early April, the US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with Taiwan regional leader Tsai Ing-wen in California, who was visiting the US under the guise of "transit." This incident also sparked strong opposition from the Chinese side as it was a serious provocation by the US side that violated the one-China principle. 

The US cannot come up with these "sweet words" while stabbing China in the back, some Chinese experts said, who believe Beijing now has low interest in engaging with Washington given that Washington's actions have always been contrary to its words. The US is yet to fulfill its commitment that US President Joe Biden had made during a meeting with China's top leader on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit in Bali in November 2022. 

To turn its words into action 

Burns said at the Tuesday event that the US government has been consistent in its approach toward the island of Taiwan, insisting that any resolution of the cross-Taiwan Straits differences has to be peaceful.

"It's up to the US to see whether the US-China relations would ease in the short period of time. Instead of saying those 'beautiful words,' the US should prove with concrete actions that 'it's not the greatest talker who is always the least doer,'" Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Before Burns attended the online event of the Stimson Center, he visited the Center for American Studies at Fudan University on April 26 where he met with Chinese scholars including Wu Xinbo, director at the center. Wu told the Global Times on Wednesday that he has emphasized during the meeting that "the window of opportunity for the improvement of China-US relations this year is slowly closing, that is, time is running out." 

"There are two major areas: One is the Taiwan question. The US should not say one thing and do another but should return to its one-China policy stance. The other is that the US should not take those 'decoupling' measures and impose technology blockage against China," Wu said. 

"It's unclear whether Washington genuinely wants to have dialogue with Beijing or it just intends to create this false image of managing strategic rivalry with China and putting it under control in front of its allies," Li Haidong said, who believed that any change in rhetoric won't hide the US' true intention of "decoupling" from key areas in its China policy, which is set to create confrontation and division. 

"It also depends on how much political will the Biden administration has to improve the bilateral ties. Burns may have some positive statement on US-China relations, but those words have limited impact on the Biden administration," Wu said.