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Foreign Policy

An Old Horse Lost Its Way

Jul 16, 2021
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

When Joe Biden took office in January, many people regarded him as a veteran American politician, an experienced and astute war horse. Naturally, they believed that there might be a reset of the Sino-U.S. relations, as his predecessor Donald Trump, a businessman-turned politician, had pursued an erratic anti-China policy that resulted in enormous damage to both countries and the other parts of the world.

Regrettably, no reset is in sight. The clever Joe Biden has failed precisely because of his cleverness in dealing with China. The development of the Sino-U.S. relationship offers the following explanation for why the old horse might have lost the way:

First, Biden and his administration have yielded to the pressure of a domestic political struggle. As a result, they lack the political will or courage to guide the American people to the recognition that peaceful coexistence between a rising China and the sole superpower, the U.S., is the only option for the next few decades. They have refused to give up their tradition of flaunting U.S. superiority by subduing any power or group of powers that grow to challenge America’s position in the world.

Encouraged by the “victory” or “upper hand” over what were once the No. 2 countries over the last century — the Soviet Union, Japan and Germany — the Biden administration is trying every possible means to outfight a growing China to maintain U.S. leadership in the world. Though Biden clearly understands that China will inevitably surpass the U.S. in GDP and other areas after his first presidential term, he would rather make his last stand to contain China than tell the truth to the American public. It’s all politically motivated. Whatever efforts the Biden administration might make, China has started moving toward its second centenary goal of becoming a great modern socialist country by 2049 — this after China became a moderately prosperous country in all respects with the historic resolution of the problem of absolute poverty.

With China’s prospects in mind, it is becoming more and more clear that cooperation and peaceful coexistence are in the best interests of both countries. U.S. efforts to contain China will harm its own interests in the end.  

Second, frequent provocations against China damage the U.S. image in China and other parts of the world. China is ready to cope with them, and they have proved counterproductive to U.S. strategic objectives. Now, more countries and people have come to know the poor record of U.S. human rights, as well as its hypocrisy and dishonesty, as it has repeatedly interfered in China’s internal affairs by spreading misinformation about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

The U.S. hegemonic image has been made known to more people through its repeated show of naval force in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. Fewer countries and their people believe that American military operations help maintain peace and stability or prevent conflict in the region as U.S. leaders have stated, while more countries and people have become clear that such behavior is intended to make trouble for China as part of a U.S. plan to hold the country down.

As is known to all, it is for science to discover the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden administration was not very much interested in the matter for some time, but it suddenly changed its position under public pressure. U.S. intelligence agencies have now been instructed to reach a conclusion by mid-August.

Some honest American analysts have recently pointed out that partisan politics is the true motive behind the new U.S. focus on the origins of COVID-19, and fair-minded people have begun to worry that Sino-U.S. relations might be taken hostage by U.S. domestic partisan rivalries.

Third, microphone diplomacy is not the proper way to deal with China. The Biden administration has much better knowledge of China than the previous U.S. administration, but it likes the American way, even though facts have proved that the old American way does not work. The Biden administration needs new, more effective, ways of dealing with China, which should consider both the American and Chinese way.

The Biden administration is aware of China’s advice that equality and mutual respect are basic principles both countries should observe, and that the U.S. should give up the old American arrogance, ideological prejudice and unilateral violations of essential etiquette for domestic political purposes. If the Biden administration is truly sincere about continuing top-level dialogue and consultation with China to increase mutual understanding, it should discard any illusion that it can gain advantage through microphone diplomacy. It is simple common sense that public accusations in the U.S. against China and a high-profile desire to engage in dialogue and exchanges with China are self-contradictory and counterproductive. Such tactics of the U.S. will not produce the intended results. When the U.S. makes real efforts to stop provoking China, meaningful dialogue and programs of cooperation will naturally be conducted in a coordinated manner.

As U.S. credibility shows no signs of improvement, it is now an important task for both countries to understand the need to increase mutual trust. It will help the U.S. if it truly changes its way of dealing with other countries, such as China, though it might feel that’s difficult at times after being a superpower for more than 100 years. As China has truly stood up on the world stage, it does not accept foreign bullying or oppression. Equality and mutual respect should become the mutually agreed-upon rule for both countries as they have dealings with each other. 

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