Key Cooperative Research Institute for Policy Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the P.R.C (2022-2024)

Wu Xinbo,"China-U.S. relations: President Xi gives the answer to the question of the century"


Chinese President Xi Jinping took a phone call from U.S. President Joe Biden on the morning of September 10. They had a candid, in-depth and extensive strategic communications and exchanges on China-U.S. relations and relevant issues of mutual interest.

The call was the eleventh between President Xi Jinping and a head of state or government within a month. President Xi Jinping has attended three important international multilateral events by video in the last month, including the 13th BRICS Summit which he just attended.

It was also the second time this year that Xi spoke by phone with Biden at the U.S. invitation. In its report, CNN emphasized that it was the United States that initiated the call.

When the clouds scudded across the sky, we took it easy. China's head of state diplomacy has always been aiming at strengthening the bonds of global cooperation.

In terms of cooperation, whether the U.S. is sincere or not, China takes it easy.

The China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. In the phone call, Xi said, China and the United States are respectively the biggest developing country and the biggest developed country. Whether they can handle their relationship well bears on the future of the world. It is a question of the century to which the two countries must provide a good answer.

Cooperation between China and the United States can lead to many great things for the benefit of both countries and the world. When Biden first took office, the international community had high hopes that he would improve relations between the two countries.

As a member of the first delegation sent by the U.S. Congress to China, Biden, then a senator, first came to China in 1979. In a speech, he pointed out that China's development was good for the United States. 

In 2011, Biden visited China again. After that visit, Biden wrote an article in the U.S. media, entitled China's Rise Isn't Our Demise. In the article, he wrote, "Even as the United States and China cooperate, we also compete. I strongly believe that the United States can and will flourish from this competition".

On the eve of Chinese New Year, in the first phone call between the two heads of states, Biden sent the greetings to all Chinese people. According to credible sources, that call was initiated by the United States and was also deliberately timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year.

However, the sincerity expressed initially by the U.S. was not followed by practical actions.

Since Biden took office, the two countries have gone further apart. In recent months, the U.S. Congress has seen more bills on China than ever before, with more than a dozen in July alone, most of which recommend policies against or restricting China. The United States has been suppressing and containing China more than ever before.

The United States has reversed the positive stance it took at the beginning. The international community's high hopes for improved China-U.S. relations have been dashed on the rock of harsh realities. According to Wu Xinbo, director at the Center for American Studies of Fudan University, The U.S. has made a major strategic miscalculation about China. It sees China as a major strategic competitor and feels that whatever China does is aimed at the United States, that China is undermining the leadership of the United States and that China wants to play a dominant role in the international order.

China will hold its ground in spite of the pressure and tension. For every trick played by the United States, China has its countermeasure. In the phone call early this year, Xi offered the key to breaking the ice in China-U.S. relations, while the two sides may differ on some issues, it is crucial to show mutual respect and treat each other as equals.

On March 18 this year, a Chinese delegation was invited to attend a high-level strategic dialogue between the United States and China in Anchorage. The day before the dialogue, the U.S. once again escalated its so-called sanctions against China over the Hong Kong issue. In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi fired back during the dialogue, "This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests, and we wonder if this is a decision made by the United States to try to gain some advantage in dealing with China, but certainly this is miscalculated and only reflects the vulnerability and weakness inside the United States."

The U.S. has been talking about cooperation on one hand while suppressing and containing China on the other. In response, China shattered the U.S. pipe dream of wanting to do bad things and get good results.

In July, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China. Before that, the U.S. politician used a petty old trick of wandering around Southeast Asian countries to try to build alliances. The Chinese side directly drew red lines and made demands in the talks, giving two lists and three bottom lines regarding the U.S. sanctions on China.China has made clear that it does not accept the U.S. claim that it wants to deal with China from a position of strength. 

In hindsight of the embarrassing scene where the U.S. spent half of the previous G7 summit discussing China while receiving little response from other countries, China once again shattered the illusion that the U.S. can suppress China on one hand while making its allies believe that it can dominate U.S.-China relations.

Director Wu said, China's attitude is clear that the U.S. 'collaborate, compete, confront' policy framework will not work. The 'two lists' and 'three bottom lines' are meant to establish a new framework for China-U.S. interaction. Only by respecting China's core concerns and vital interests can the U.S. talk about cooperation and extensive competition with China.

Now the odds are in China's favor.

Hence, there's all the more reason for the U.S. to behave like a major power. Xi said over the phone, "With the international community facing many common challenges, China and the United States need to show broad vision and shoulder great responsibilities. The two countries should look ahead and press forward, demonstrate strategic courage and political resolve, and bring China-U.S. relations back to the right track of stable development as soon as possible for the good of the people in both countries and around the world."

At the time of this phone call, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States this year already exceeded that of last year. As Hurricane Ida rages on, New York and New Jersey have declared a state of emergency.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was a mess and has sent Biden's approval rate to the lowest level since he took office. A joint poll by Reuters and Ipsos shows Biden's approval rate went down by seven percentage points, with only 46 percent of American adults approving of Biden's performance in office.

After taking office, Biden deliberately cold-shouldered China at first by saying he needed to assess his policy towards China, but in reality he was busy wooing allies and playing down relations with China.

Since May, the United States felt unable to play cool any longer and started to communicate more and more frequently with China.

At first, the U.S. trade representative, the U.S. treasury secretary and other members of the U.S. trade and economic team began to speak with China one after another. In July, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman offered to visit China. In August, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also took two phone calls from the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Parallel to the increased frequency of exchanges is the gradual worsening of the U.S. domestic and diplomatic quagmire.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned not long ago that tariffs on China were hurting American consumers. And the tariffs, which the United States has been slow to end, have been pushing up the level of inflation in the United States. The level of inflation in the U.S. in the first half of the year was at one point the highest in almost 13 years.

In an intriguing detail, Bloomberg put out word in August that U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was considering a visit to China, which would likely be the first face-to-face economic talks between U.S. and Chinese officials since the Biden administration took office.

It's still the same old trick of mingling true information with false information. But the United States, which used to emphasize only competition, starts to feel the need to show a more rational and pragmatic attitude.

This phone call also shows that the United States once again released signals of wanting to have proactive dialogue and cooperation with China. The reason behind it was already highlighted by Xi in his last phone talk with Biden, "Confrontation between China and the U.S. would certainly be a disaster for both countries and the world."

During this phone call, Xi also reiterated that when China and the United States are in confrontation, the two countries and the world will suffer.

More recently, the Brookings Institution, a globally influential think tank, also published an article dedicated to the topic, entitled The 'New Normal' in U.S.-China Relations: Hardening Competition and Deep Interdependence. The conclusion was clear: Bilateral competition between the United States and China is intensifying; even so, rising bilateral friction has not undone the deep interdependencies that have built up between the two powers over decades.

Getting the relationship right is not an option, but something we must do and must do well.

However, whoever started the trouble should end it. As Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in his meeting with the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, the ball is now in the U.S. court.

As the U.S. gradually loses its credibility in the world, if it really wants to cooperate, it should first swallow its pride, face reality and have open dialogues with China.

It is impossible and unrealistic for the U.S. to arbitrarily put labels on China and try to lead China by the nose.

China will only go its own way.

This phone call between the two heads of state covered a wide range of topics, including climate change, pandemic prevention and control, economic recovery, and major international and regional issues.

These topics are frequently mentioned by Xi in his head of state diplomacy.

So far this year, Xi has attended more than 10 important international multilateral and bilateral events by video.

This demonstrates the self-confidence of a major country's diplomacy, and moreover, the mind of making both itself and others successful.

Just before this phone call, at the 13th BRICS Summit, Xi announced that China will donate an additional 100 million doses of vaccines to fellow developing countries within this year. At the first meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan's neighboring countries just held, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also announced that China will provide Afghanistan with 200 million yuan worth of food supplies, materials for winter, COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.

The pandemic has not put a halt to China's efforts to seek cooperation; on the contrary, the world understands more than ever the profound meaning of a community of shared future for mankind. In this phone call, Xi elaborated on China's position on climate change and other issues, stressing that China continues to prioritize ecological conservation and pursues a green and low-carbon path to development, and has taken the initiative to actively shoulder international responsibilities befitting China's national conditions.

As early as last year, China had released a detailed timetable for its green initiative.

Xi declared at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly that China aims to have carbon emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

This means that China will become the country with the biggest reduction in the intensity of carbon emissions and will go from peak emissions to carbon neutrality in the shortest time in world history.

China's contribution to green development is very significant, and more importantly, China follows its own pace.

On September 3, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry concluded his second visit to China in a year. Once again, he exchanged views with China on climate issues. It is worth noting that this time, China and the U.S. did not reach a joint statement. The reason behind this was explained by Wu Xinbo, "On the climate issue, China is following the principle set forth in the Paris Agreement rather than the U.S. demands, so if the U.S. gives China demands on climate change, China will naturally ignore them."

Cooperation can be negotiated, but never dictated.

The premise that China and the United States can cooperate on climate was also made clear by Xi over the phone, On the basis of respecting each other's core concerns and properly managing differences, the relevant departments of the two countries may continue their engagement and dialogue.

The United States has been hoping that climate cooperation can become an oasis in China-U.S. relations, but if the oasis is surrounded by deserts, it will sooner or later be sanded up.

In other words, China-U.S. climate cooperation cannot be separated from the broader context of China-U.S. relations.

In the face of the question of the century which both sides must answer pertaining to China-U.S. relations, China has already given its solution.

China will wait and see how the United States answers it.

(Source: CGTN)