Gaining insights into China's US policy

By Jon Taylor
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, March 16, 2021
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While some have derided the ministerial press conferences on the sidelines of China's annual legislative sessions as merely standard official responses, they actually serve to provide some meaningful insight into the workings of China's government, governance and policy making.

At his press conference on March 7, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi answered a wide array of questions on China's foreign policy and external relations. His answers provided some clear indications on the direction of China's diplomatic goals for 2021.

Notably, Wang observed that China's primary foreign policy challenge is "to stand firm against hegemony, highhandedness and bullying." Simply stated, this was a reminder about the worsening of China-U.S. relations under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

This statement also provided an opening for Wang to comprehensively address the country's top foreign policy priority: the state of relations with the U.S., particularly as it relates to issues regarding Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, global governance and trade.

What clearly stood out in the press conference was the foreign minister's observations about China's approach to the new U.S. administration and President Joe Biden's description of competition in China-U.S. relations.

Wang rightly said the two countries may see a competitive element in their relations, which should be viewed as quite normal. But he went on to state that what really matters is that both sides advocate healthy competition on a fair and just basis, one that allows for self-improvement. More importantly, he observed that cooperation should be the primary goal of China-U.S. relations.

Before and after his election as U.S. president, Biden and his advisors have repeatedly used descriptors such as "competition," "important competitors," "fierce competition between China and the U.S." and "preparing for long-term strategic competition with China" to express the direction in which Biden wants to take bilateral ties.

With this in mind, Wang observed that while there are differences in the two nations' political systems, such differences should not be the basis for antagonism or confrontation. Rather, he said China and the U.S. should treat each other with mutual respect, focus on cooperation, engage in benign competition, and properly manage differences. Hopefully, this kind of approach to China-U.S. relations can have a positive impact moving forward.

Wang tried to balance a broadly conciliatory tone with a firm defense of China's foreign policy. While noting the importance of strengthening cooperation and managing differences between China and the U.S., he also expressed consternation at U.S. interference in China's internal affairs, specifically by criticizing the U.S. for interfering in other countries' internal affairs. On the Taiwan question, Wang said the Biden administration needed to change the Trump administration's practice of "crossing the red line" and "playing with fire."

But Wang offered a hopeful tone when he stated that China welcomed the U.S. return to the Paris Climate Agreement and expects that the U.S. will shoulder its responsibility and make its due contribution. Wang's observations about renewed China-U.S. cooperation on climate change was significant because it suggests that this shared issue can bring positive "climate change" to the nations' bilateral relations.

In light of the past few years of rough China-U.S. relations, a vicious pandemic and a global economic downturn, Wang's comments provided needed insight and important diplomatic gestures as the world recovers and moves forward into the decade ahead. 

The author is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio

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