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High time for Washington to change course for better ties with Beijing

Global Times 2021-01-20

The US State Department's abrupt cancelation of a planned visit to the island of Taiwan by US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, as part of the transition to the incoming Biden administration, is helpful to alleviate tense China-US relations.

After four years of turbulence and the free fall of China-US relations, what can the Biden administration do to put the brakes on? What might a reset of China-US relations look like?

There are at least five things the Biden administration can do.

First, dial down the rhetoric. The past four years have witnessed a kind of "rhetorical war" in China-US diplomatic relations. The US State Department, and in particular its Secretary Mike Pompeo, has engaged in systematic rhetorical attacks on China and the Chinese government. This was never before seen in China-US relations since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979. Whatever the reason, it only poisoned the atmosphere of the relations.

As a counterattack, China also raised its criticism of the US, leading some in the West to worry about the "Wolf Warrior" style diplomacy of China. If the Biden administration, and especially the State Department, dials down its anti-China rhetoric, this will help to create a friendlier environment for the two countries to sit down and work out their differences.

Second, jettison the "regime change" style China policy. Besides rhetoric, the Trump administration even has the illusion to delegitimize the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government by insulting them and by cozying up to the Chinese people. In this way, the Trump administration hoped to insert a wedge between the Chinese government and the Chinese people.

This crazy "regime change" style China policy has nearly pushed China-US relations off a cliff. Given Trump's madness and impracticability, the Biden administration should have little trouble deserting it and help to correct course.

Third, resume China-US cultural exchanges, which have been a remarkably successful story of China-US relations. As of 2019, China has been the leading source of international students in the US for 10 consecutive years. During the 2018-19 academic year alone, more than 360,000 Chinese students were studying in the US, and nearly 21,000 Americans were studying in China. Moreover, there have been numerous cultural programs held between the two countries to help the two great nations better know each other.

In an era of the so-called major power competition, the importance of cultural and people-to-people exchanges increases, forging the necessary links and bonds required to head off crazy and irresponsible actions by the politicians. The Trump administration's tough measures targeting Chinese students and scholars, and the irresponsible visa policies against Chinese citizens, have soured China-US relations and greatly damaged its image among the Chinese people.

Fourth, stop provocations on the Taiwan question that is the bedrock of China-US relations. The provocations essentially put China-US relations on a collision course. China will never back off on the Taiwan question, because this is an essential matter of national sovereignty. As an experienced politician, Biden shall know about the importance of Taiwan to China-US relations. Any provocation on this foundational issue will fundamentally rock relations.  

Fifth, change style in China-US trade dialogue. The Trump administration's bellicose rhetoric and ultimate pressure in its trade war with China rocked China-US relations.

It didn't serve the US economic interest either. In the US, commodities prices rose, farmers suffered, and exports shrank, while perhaps only elements of the stock market gained and thus made the rich class great again.

What the Trump administration did and demanded was not a "give and take" type of diplomacy - it was an extreme deviation to the norms of trade negotiations. It sought to make China lose face and hence surrender to its whims.

To put it differently, the Trump administration did not negotiate in good faith. If Biden wants to change, his team has to learn from the lesson of the Trump administration. It especially has to change the "winners take all" style of trade negotiation tactics. It has to seriously consider China's legitimate demands and concerns.  

The US, the world, and China-US relations cannot afford four more years of Trump-style foreign policy. It's time for the Biden administration to change course in China-US relations.

The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

Source: Global Times