High-level diplomacy seems to have initiated the outline of a formula for ironing out angularities in the relations of the two most powerful countries of the world, which are also ideologically divided.
Last week Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met with the US ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns. Wang said, “both nations would not be able to ‘change each other.'”
Wang Yi was promoted to membership of the Politburo in the 20th National Congress of CCP concluded on November 3.
In his first telephonic call two weeks after the National Congress to his American counterpart Antony Blinken conveyed that the two sides need to “return to a normal track.”
The tip-off is that an environment may be created where complex and more contentious issues between the two powers could be kept aside. At the same time, relations in other areas of common interest could be examined and pursued.
An official Chinese readout explained that Wang said Beijing’s significant strategies, including its opening-up policy, would remain consistent after the 20th Communist Party congress.
“Opening up” could be a relative term with one meaning for Wang and another for the other. Washington may consider “what is opening up and to what extent?”
Xi Wants China And The US ‘To Get Along’
Currently, China has identified three irritants that have caused a setback in the normal relations between the two countries.
These are (a) China’s refusal to sign the condemnation resolution against Russian action in Ukraine, (b) the visit of Pelosi to Taiwan, which means a challenge to China’s claim over Taiwan, and (c) Washington’s newly imposed restrictions on the export of more key technologies and hi-tech items, including advanced computing chips.
What has led the Chinese diplomats to revisit Sino-US relations could be the overall tone of President Xi’s address to the deliberations of the National Congress.
In a letter to the National Committee on US-China Relations annual gala in New York last week, Xi said he wants a return to sound development in the relationship. “China stands ready to work with the United States to find the right way to get along with each other in the new era, based on mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation,” Xi said.
Wang Yi elaborated on President Xi’s statement by adding that it would be in the two countries’ shared interest and meet the world’s expectations if ties returned to a “normal track.”
Again the term “common interests” is confusing. As we find in the recently concluded deliberations of the 20th National Congress, China’s resolve is to become the world’s leading economic and military power. And this is precisely the ambition that Washington is not prepared to concede. Here lies the major disparity in the goals.
In his response, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confined himself to just keeping the channels of communication open, which is different from what Wang means by opening up.
The present initiative has come from the Chinese side ostensibly because of some assertions of President Xi of maintaining normal relations for the good of China, the US, and the world at large.
QUAD In Picture
An important question is whether the two powers can act to ensure the non-militarization of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Because of the Chinese aggressive naval stance and belligerent forays in the IOR, the concerned outstanding democracies — Japan, Australia, and India, with the US in the lead — came together to meet the Chinese challenge.
How far the Quad-4 will be able to ensure the free movement of commercial vessels in the IOR and through the Strait of Malacca is also a moot point. Opinions differ. Some observers believe Quad-4’s destination remains murky, and the US understands the situation. That was why AUKUS — a security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States was brought about. It is a different matter of how far the AUKUS will effectively pursue its objectives.
We have also noted that various thinkers in the US and elsewhere have started questioning Washington for sticking to a hard-line policy and not understanding the implications of China rising as a competitive power that should not be confronted but competed.
The telephonic conversation between the foreign ministers of the two countries occurred only two weeks before the G-20 Summit in Bali (Indonesia), which President Xi and President Biden are both likely to attend in person.
So far, no schedule has indicated an arranged meeting between the two leaders though speculation is rife that the two foreign secretaries might have discussed the issue.
The telephonic talk between the two foreign ministers does not indicate Taiwan or Ukraine being mentioned in particular. That exposes the non-serious element of the exchange between the top diplomats.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said the omission of Taiwan from the statement is “rare.” Still, Beijing and Washington’s stance towards the self-ruled island remains clear.
The world community will welcome any attempt to bring about a thaw in strained relations between the two most powerful countries. If they can remain in regular touch to work on a calibrated peace formula, the world would be a happier place to live in.
- Padma Shri KN Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views expressed here are of the author’s.
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