Can a new track for China-US relationship be established?
Published: Aug 30, 2023 09:31 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

One of the most important and substantive outcomes of US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo's China trip was the decision of the two sides to set up a working group composed of deputy ministerial and bureau-level government officials from both countries. Representatives from the business sector are involved in this mechanism to seek solutions to specific business issues. 

When it comes to the word "mechanism," it is important to note that this is not a restart, but a rebuild. This means that the existing 100-plus dialogue mechanisms between China and the US at various levels can no longer solve new problems in the bilateral relationship. This is because the tracks, laid down by these mechanisms and carrying the train of China-US relations, can no longer work smoothly. 

The word "mechanism" reminds me of my experience when I was working in the US in 2001-02, when China-US relations began to decline rapidly after an aircraft collision incident in the South China Sea, but then took a big turn after the 9/11 attacks as the US changed its strategy. China and the US began to enhance the establishment of mechanisms for communication, consultation and cooperation.

Times have changed. A comparison with the motivations for establishing these mechanisms in the first place shows that their construction, which was originally aimed at stabilizing, enhancing, and upgrading China-US relations, has now become a reconstruction of a communication mechanism to facilitate the exchanges of information and to find ways to alleviate business frictions.

This is the first step in the construction of a new track, which is still at the beginning stage of exploring the way, rather than finding a new model. Although the US side claims to "manage the competition [with China] responsibly," we have to observe if the new track can be established based on the US' actual action in the next stage. The track cannot be built at Washington's will alone.

Wang Jisi, founding President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, has made a judgment about the current state of China-US relations: Both China and the US have positioned each other as the biggest external threat.

Especially in the area of security, which is most prominently emphasized by each, the US has not changed its threat to continue to contain Chinese companies and made-in-China products and to keep raising its war preparations. China, on the other hand, is no longer reacting passively, as Chinese companies and manufacturers continue to make breakthroughs and progress globally while beginning to take countermeasures.In fact, both China and the US are focusing on reshaping their relationship at all levels. Therefore, the willingness and motivation of the two sides to seek a new mechanism now is completely different from that of establishing a new mechanism after the 9/11 attacks.

Another very important difference is that in 2002, when China and the US began to establish a series of mechanisms, China's economy was just starting to take off. But now China has become the second-largest economy in the world.

While the US still maintains strong economic, military, financial and technological strengths, China is also not what it used to be. The US has dragged China into a race, but the latter has the ability to withstand, make breakthroughs and fight back more strongly than ever. China has considerable power, especially in terms of pulling the bilateral relationship away from unilaterally following the track of the US-launched trade war under Donald Trump. This is one of the reasons why there have been positive changes in China-US relations in recent times.

The most important thing is that the China-US relationship in the next stage is no longer likely to change passively according to Washington's strategic adjustments as it used to. China already has a fairly strong ability to shape its relations with the US, and the use of these capabilities will become an important force in determining the direction of China-US relations.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina