US-China: Preserving the Momentum
"In a sense, the extent to which US-China relations will be able to rebound in 2023 will determine the degree to which the bilateral relationship will fall back in 2024."
Antony Blinken, Janet Yellen, John Kerry and, most recently, Gina Raimondo have visited Beijing over the past three months. Until then, no Cabinet official from the Biden Administration had traveled to China. Reactions by Chinese analysts to these visits and to their impact on US-China relations can arguably be boiled down to three main points: 1. generally positive and have helped ease tensions; 2. no fundamental change to Washington’s growing rivalry with Beijing; 3. next year’s US presidential election is the greatest destabilising factor for US-China ties.
For a more detailed coverage of these reactions (prior to Raimondo’s visit), see here:
Today’s article is one of the more upbeat commentaries to have followed US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s recent visit to Beijing. Somewhat surprisingly, it was published in the Global Times which is known to prefer opinion pieces that have a little more hawkish “oomph” to them. Its author, Song Guoyou (宋国友) is the deputy director of Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies (Fudan’s most influential IR department according to scholars there). His key points are as follows:
The visits by four senior US officials over the past three months have allowed the US-China relationship to step out of the “huge pitfall” created by the Chinese spy balloon incident earlier this year.
Raimondo’s trip was the most successful by a US official this year and has helped prolong the overall easing of Sino-US relations that has taken place throughout the summer.
Dialogue mechanisms have been set up which should help stabilise relations somewhat.
Washington has realised that unilateral decisions and confrontation do not work with Beijing and has therefore had to readjust its strategy towards China. Its shift from decoupling to de-risking is an example of this.
This year’s APEC Leaders' Meeting in San Francisco will hopefully confirm this current mini détente between Washington and Beijing. “Head-of-state diplomacy” should continue to lead bilateral relations and strengthen this positive momentum.
The damage that next year’s US presidential election race will cause to US-China ties is almost inevitable. Both countries should work hard to improve relations now, while they still can.
Name: Song Guoyou (宋国友)
Year of birth: 1977 (age: 45/46)
Position: Deputy director and Professor, Centre for American Studies, Fudan University
Research focus: US-China relations; China’s economic diplomacy; International political economy
Education: MA-PhD Fudan University (2000-2006)
Other: Special expert on the decision-making committee of China’s Ministry of Commerce
HOW TO SUSTAIN THE POSITIVE MOMENTUM OF HIGH-LEVEL COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE US AND CHINA
Song Guoyou (宋国友)
Source: Global Times (30.08.2023)
US Commerce Secretary [Gina] Raimondo is currently visiting China [Note: Song’s article was published on the last day of her four-day visit]. When compared with the previous trips by Blinken, Yellen and other senior US officials, Raimondo's visit has drawn a relatively high degree of attention. [Furthermore,] the overall atmosphere has been more relaxed and the results more concrete. This continues the overall ‘steady rise’ and easing [缓和态势] of Sino-US relations, and brings to a relatively concrete end a period of high-level US visits to China.
During Raimondo's visit, China and the United States have had relatively positive discussions. This enthusiasm was reflected not only in the strong willingness on both sides to engage with one another, but also by the establishment of specific mechanisms, such as a US-China working group for commercial issues and a consultation mechanism at the ministerial level. With clear government-level communication mechanisms [now in place], US-China dialogues on relevant fields and topics will be more formal and predictable.
There are three broad reasons why Raimondo's visit to China was generally quite positive. First, Raimondo's past experiences make her more pragmatic about China. Unlike Blinken and Yellen, Raimondo has founded a company and served as a governor. She is [thus] able to look at the US-China relationship more rationally from both a corporate and regional vantage point, and understands the importance and complementarity of the US-China economic relationship.
Second, Raimondo is responsible for areas that have more cooperative elements with China. As Secretary of State, Blinken is responsible for diplomatic and political affairs; as Secretary of the Treasury, Yellen is responsible for monetary and financial affairs; and as Secretary of Commerce, Raimondo is responsible for trade and investment. Although China and the United States currently have certain problems in the areas of trade and investment, these are the two areas in which US-China ties have the greatest degree of interdependence and the widest range of common interests. The almost $700 billion of bilateral trade is the greatest common denominator in the interests [shared] by both countries.
Last, [the success of this visit] has to do with the adjustment of the Biden administration's strategy towards China. The US’s China policy was previously guided by 'competition plus confrontation [竞争加对抗]'. [However,] the Biden administration encountered China’s powerful diplomatic struggle against the US [遭遇了中国对美强有力的外交斗争] and, unsurprisingly, witnessed a relative low point in US-China relations. Washington was made acutely aware that it is difficult to [re]define bilateral relations unilaterally and that confrontation could not achieve its expected results. As a result, [Washington] has to some extent changed its strategy towards China. In the area of trade and investment, the most typical [example of this] is its abandonment of the term ‘decoupling’ and its shift towards emphasising economic ‘de-risking’ from China. In the context of the Biden administration's diplomatic readjustment towards the PRC, Raimondo's visit to China was also afforded greater flexibility.
[That being said,] Raimondo's more concrete and positive results from her visit to China were not achieved overnight and cannot objectively be separated from the cumulative effect of the previous visits to China by several senior US officials. One should not underestimate the previous visits of such high-ranking officials as Blinken and Yellen [simply] on account of the fact that Raimondo's visit to China seemed more positive. In fact, it is precisely because of the recent and successive visits to China by senior US officials that: the degree of cooperation between the US and Chinese governments could be raised accordingly; and that there could be a more concrete design for improving the advancement of practical cooperation between the US and China.
Overall, with Raimondo's visit serving as the finale [压轴之行] of a series of visits by senior US officials to China, US-China relations have largely stepped out of the huge pitfall caused by the balloon incident at the beginning of the year, and returned to the appropriate track set out by the two heads of state during their meeting in Bali. However, US-China relations still face major challenges. Without discussing how to deal with the long-standing systemic, structural and institutional discrepancies, if not confrontational factors, in the US-China relationship, [and if we] just [look at this] from the perspective of improving bilateral relations, one of the most concrete challenges [that we now have] is how the slight détente [缓和] of 2023 can be continued into 2024.
The [recent] visits to China by several high-ranking US officials and the possible return visits by Chinese officials to the United States will encourage high-level exchanges between China and the United States to preserve this momentum [相当的热度]. In particular, the APEC Leaders' Meeting to be held in the US this November could become a landmark event in this year’s easing of Sino-US relations.
However, as the United States enters its general election year next year, the US-China relationship will [also] enter the US’s domestic political cycle. At that time, US-China ties will come under tremendous pressure from US domestic politics and may even be held hostage [裹挟] by America’s domestic political agenda.
In a sense, the extent to which US-China relations will be able to rebound in 2023 will determine the degree to which the bilateral relationship will fall back in 2024. [In other words,] the greater the progress that can be made in relations throughout 2023, the more they will be able to withstand the potentially severe impact [剧烈冲击] of domestic political factors coming from America in 2024 as well as other factors (such as the outcome of the election on our island of Taiwan).
From a strategic point of view, China and the United States should: continue to plan for the leading role of head-of-state diplomacy; maintain, consolidate and prolong the current trend of improving bilateral relations, and increase its momentum; strengthen the foundations for cooperation in terms of economic ties, people-to-people exchanges and shared interests; and jointly build a crisis management guardrail to hedge against the potentially severe challenges facing bilateral relations next year.
Author: Huang Jing (黄靖) – Distinguished professor and director of the Institute for the US and the Pacific at the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies (SAGGAS), Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)
Title: What is the purpose of the Biden administration's push for high-level exchanges with China?
Source: Guancha.cn (27.08.2023)
“These [recent] exchanges and interactions will not lead to any substantial improvement of the US-China relationship in the foreseeable future. Moreover, as the US presidential election approaches, US-China ‘competition’ is bound to become a key topic in this election. Whether we will be able to maintain an effective [level of] control over this relationship in the midst of the "frenzy" of the presidential election will be a true test of the wisdom and ability of US and Chinese policymakers.”
Author: Wu Xinbo (吴心伯) – Director of the Institute of International Studies and director of the Center for American Studies, Fudan University
Title: US Commerce Secretary Raimondo's first visit to China: How did the talks between the US and China go? (Interview)
Source: Guancha.cn (30.08.2023)
“[Washington] is asking China to accept its way of dealing with Sino-US economic relations, which is: ‘When I want to crackdown [on you], you have to accept it; and when I want to expand and promote economic ties, you have to cooperate and respond [positively] … Such an approach is either overly arrogant or politically ignorant, because it is impossible for China to accept the economic precepts laid down by the United States in their entirety and [simply] dance to the tune set by the US.
Author: Zhang Zhixin (张志新) – Associate Researcher, Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).
Title: Raimondo visits China, Sino-US relations continue to ease but the road ahead is still long and arduous.
Source: CIIC (31.08.2023)
“Raimondo's visit showcased the US’s recent strategic plan towards China: on the surface, it hopes to establish close trade and commercial ties with us while ensuring its own ‘national security’; but fundamentally, the US does not want to give up its ‘small yard, high fence’ [strategy], ‘decoupling’ and other measures aimed at containing China's development … Raimondo's trip was more about building channels of communication to avoid misunderstandings, miscalculations and the escalation of conflicts, than about making compromises with and concessions to China.”