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Foreign Policy

All Issues Are Related

Sep 18, 2021
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

High-level talks in Alaska and Tianjin between China and the United States have helped increase mutual understanding by revealing differing conceptions of humanity and the world, as well as alternative views about Sino-U.S. relations.

The Chinese side holds that the U.S. tactic of demanding Chinese coordination and cooperation on certain issues, while at the same time demonizing China on others, doesn’t work. The U.S. side wants to tell China that it’s committed to separating issues and not linking them.

The Chinese side believes the Sino-U.S. relationship, on the whole, involves many issues that cannot be easily separated. Beijing studies each issue in the relationship both individually and in terms of its affect on others. In other words, each issue is assessed on its own, but also in how it interacts with issues around it. Therefore, it is crystal clear that linkages between issues are not artificially created but exist objectively. Dealing with one issue in the relationship usually requires taking others into account.

American officials seem to believe that issues in the Sino-U.S. relationship can be isolated from one another. Thus, the Biden administration’s China policy can only direct the relationship to move to America’s advantage. U.S. allies have been mobilized to offer vigorous support for the U.S. to isolate China, while the rest of the world is urged to side with the U.S. and hold China down as well.

America’s leadership position in the world has been strengthened as the U.S. has come back to the world stage. However, pragmatism often overrides purely idealistic goals when its policies fail to achieve anticipated results. About seven months have passed since Joe Biden took office, yet the administration hasn’t made any significant progress in Sino-U.S. relations. It seems that it has fallen into the deep quagmire the Trump administration created and is unable to extricate itself.

While some U.S. allies have failed to offer the expected level of support, many other countries have pointedly refused to side with the U.S. Meanwhile, China has been continuing to rise  even as the Biden administration does all it can to harm it. The U.S. has begun to lose China’s help and assistance in international affairs when it badly needs that, for example. The Biden administration has met with initial setbacks and poor results from its China policy. In a telephone conversation on Sept. 10, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart expressed a desire to move the relationship forward and avoid possible conflicts.

The following steps could help break the current stalemate:

First, the Biden administration needs to abandon its hostile actions, including fanning the flames of public opinion, as these have already done enormous damages to Sino-U.S. relations in the past seven months or so. Without a workable approach to Sino-U.S. relations, it will be very difficult to sort out all the negative and positive factors that have had a substantial, tangible impact. It has become nearly impossible in the current climate to find ways and means to wisely address common interests, cooperation and differences.

Second, the Biden administration has to learn that all-out containment of China will never succeed, and that the U.S. has no choice but to work with China to arrive at a point of peaceful coexistence. Not unlike the way the U.S. failed to win a war in Afghanistan over 20 years, it cannot defeat China by preventing its historic rise. China’s rise is determined principally by internal factors and only secondarily by its interaction with other countries, including the U.S.

Although the U.S. is the sole superpower in today’s world, wielding great world influence, it cannot dictate China’s rise or decline. The continued U.S. containment efforts made against China have given rise to a regrouping of military forces around the world, the restructuring of supply and industrial chains and changes in global trade and investment. All these changes damage the interests of many countries, including the U.S. and China. They also wear out U.S. strategic resources and contribute to all manner of divisions in the world.

If a different concept of Sino-U.S. relations were adopted, China and the U.S. would both benefit and the rest of the world would welcome it. Modern China’s efforts to realize the planned development goals of its second century would provide the U.S. and all other countries with abundant opportunities, with no threat to U.S. national security.

Third, since Sino-U.S. relations are the most consequential in the world, both countries should realize their great responsibility for world peace and prosperity through cooperation and coordination. President Joe Biden will need courage and wisdom to discard the U.S. policy centered on the containment of China. He is capable of persuading most Americans that healthy and stable U.S.-China relations help make the U.S. safer and more prosperous, and that better relations do not mean sacrificing American stature in the world. The U.S. can continue to play a vital role in world affairs, together with China and other major powers.

One might hope such a call — a beautiful dream — will not fall on deaf ears.

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