China, US step up engagement despite lingering tension
Increased meetings, visits point to stabilizing trend: experts
Published: Feb 27, 2024 08:29 PM
China US Photo:VCG

China US Photo:VCG

China and the US are continuing to step up engagement, with increasingly frequent meetings and visits by officials and business leaders from both sides, signaling that the two world's biggest economies remain committed to stabilizing ties, even as differences and tensions linger. 

In the latest developments, trade chiefs of the two countries met on the sidelines of the ongoing WTO Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. The head of the leading US business group is leading a delegation to Beijing this week. In addition, US transport authorities have granted Chinese airlines more flights to the US. More high-level US officials, including US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, are expected to visit China later this year. 

Yet, despite the positive engagements, tensions and risks remain for what has been widely seen as one of the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world, as the US continues to hype up competition with China in the economic, technological and military fields and constantly stir up tensions around China. 

Analysts said the increasingly frequent engagements send a positive signal of stabilizing ties, which helps alleviate growing concerns among businesses and governments around the world. However, to sustain such stabilizing trend, the US must match its words with concrete actions when it comes to its pledges of not seeking to contain China, drop its Cold War mentality and focus on win-win cooperation, they added. 

Positive signs

In a major move, the US Transportation Department said on Monday that Chinese airlines will be allowed to increase their weekly round-trip flights to the US to 50, compared to the current 35, starting on March 31, Reuters reported. The move "is a significant step forward in further normalization of the US-China market in anticipation of the Summer 2024 traffic season," Reuters quoted the department as saying.

While the number of flights allowed remains much lower than the over 150 weekly round-trip flights allowed by each side before 2020, the increase still marks a positive development in bilateral exchanges, analysts said. 

"Adding more flights will help serve more business travelers and provide more opportunities for people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries. There is still the possibility of more flights in the future," Li Yong, a senior research fellow at the China Association of International Trade, told the Global Times on Tuesday, noting that this is just part of growing exchanges between the two countries. 

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen met with the delegation of the US Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said.

This visit comes as Chinese and US officials are increasing interactions. On Monday, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi, where they had in-depth exchanges on bilateral and multilateral trade issues of mutual concern. Wang also expressed China's serious concerns about the US' additional tariffs on China and Taiwan-related economic and trade issues.

This also comes shortly after Chinese and US officials held another round of talks in Beijing earlier this month as part of their Economic Working Group established last year. The meeting reportedly could pave the way for a visit by Yellen later this year. In January, China and the US held the third meeting of the Financial Working Group, the first face-to-face meeting of the group since its establishment last year.

"This series of exchanges in the economic and trade field has released some positive signals," Li said. "The meaning of such exchanges is to achieve mutual assurance of win-win cooperation, so as to make the supply chain more stable, effective and economically viable and to strengthen commercial mutual trust. These are all positive signs."

US officials have also been vocal about the vast economic ties between the two countries, even as they continue to focus on competition with China. In an interview with US news outlet CBS aired on Sunday, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said, "some people are saying, 'Well, we're so competitive with China, we should end the economic relationship.' Well, the consequence of that would be 750,000 American families wouldn't be able to put dinner on the table."

Analysts said the China-US economic and trade relationship is mutually beneficial, which makes it a reliable stabilizer in overall bilateral ties. This is why the US wants to pursue engagement with China, even as it focuses on competition with and even containment of China, analysts said. 

"Increasing exports of Chinese goods to the US helps the US further lower its inflation. And growing interactions between China and the US in the economic and trade fields would also help stabilize the US economy amid high interest levels," Tian Yun, a Beijing-based economist, told the Global Times on Tuesday. "This rebound in economic and trade cooperation between China and the US will likely be a relatively stable trend."

Risks created by the US

Still, many analysts warned of lingering risks for the China-US relationship, citing Washington's focus on competition with and containment of China, even though US officials have said they do not seek to contain China or decouple from China. 

Such a focus has also been obvious in recent remarks by US officials and moves they have taken. In his interview with CBS, Burns made that clear, by saying that "we don't want to live in a world where the Chinese are the dominant country."

Before the meeting in Abu Dhabi, the Office of the US Trade Representative released a report on China's WTO compliance, which was filled with accusations against China. Tai even asserted that "China remains the biggest challenge to the international trading system established by the World Trade Organization." The report was harshly criticized by the Chinese Commerce Ministry, which said the claims are baseless and that the report reflects US' unilateral and bullying behaviors. The US is the one that disregard WTO rules, undermine the global trade order and hurt all WTO members, the ministry added. 

The US has also continued to crack down on Chinese businesses based on unfounded claims such as "threat" to its national security or "forced labor." In the latest example, on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that the US Department of Homeland Security is expanding its scrutiny of solar firms in the US on their supply chains as it toughens enforcement of a ban on products linked to the so-called Chinese forced labor.

The move drew a harsh response from China on Tuesday. At a regular press conference, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that "we've stated on multiple occasions that the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nothing but an egregious lie. The US uses the made-up story of 'forced labor' to enforce the malicious legislation on Xinjiang and create 'forced unemployment' in the region. Such moves seriously violate people's basic human rights in Xinjiang and the international trade rules. They have also disrupted global industrial and supply chains." 

"The US needs to immediately stop smearing China, stop meddling in China's internal affairs under the pretext of human rights and stop politicizing and weaponizing economic and trade issues," Mao said.