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China, US increase exchanges; Washington still 'lacks sincerity'

Wu Xinbo

Global Times 2024-04-17

(Source:Global Times,2024-04-17)

China-US Graphic: GT

China-US Graphic: GT

China and the US have recently engaged in intensive dialogues and communications across multiple fields, involving military, financial and economic aspects. Observers believe the current frequent interactions between the world's two largest economies are positively meaningful and conducive to better managing differences between the two sides, and also beneficial for the US to form correct understanding and judgments about China's actions and policies.

However, the most prominent feature of the current China-US relations is that Washington continuously raises demands with China but lacks sincerity in responding to many of China's reasonable requests. Although bilateral relations have relatively stabilized, whether they can progress further remains to be seen, observers said, who also warned to be vigilant against Washington's "tricks," especially in military sector.

Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun held a video call with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday. Dong said the heads of state of China and the United States are committed to stabilizing and improving bilateral relations, stressing that both militaries should serve as a cornerstone for maintaining such stability.

He underscored that the Taiwan question is at the core of China's core interests, which brook no compromise. The Chinese People's Liberation Army stands firm against any activities seeking "Taiwan independence" or external support for such separatist actions, Dong said.

Noting the overall stability in the South China Sea situation, Dong urged the United States to recognize China's firm stance and take practical actions to uphold regional peace, as well as the stability of relations between the two countries and militaries.

Meanwhile, the economic and financial working groups of China and the US held their fourth meeting in Washington DC on Tuesday, with the two sides engaging in "in-depth, pragmatic and constructive" dialogue on how to implement the consensus reached earlier by the leaders of both nations, the macroeconomic situations of both countries and the world, how to achieve balanced growth, and other topics.

The fourth meeting came after the US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrapped up a high-stakes six-day visit to China last week, during which the two countries reached new areas of consensuses in economic and financial fields and also agreed on future meeting arrangements.

From the meeting between the leaders of China and the US in San Francisco last November to their phone call in early April this year, there has been effective communication between the two sides in practical areas. Regardless of whether differences still exist, the communication itself is effective and represents a breakthrough, some Chinese experts said.

Analyzing statements released by the US, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, believes US' sincerity in communication and exchanges with China is insufficient.

"The starting point of their communication is not aimed at moving toward China to better manage differences and resolve conflicts. Instead, the US is motivated by the need to bolster its allies' confidence in how it handles relations with China, demonstrating its capability to keep China-US relations under control. This, in turn, assures its allies to more confidently follow the US in its strategic competition with China," Li told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Vigilance against 'tricks'

The latest talk between the defense chiefs of the two countries, which is a major breakthrough in fully resuming the military-to-military communication, is likely to add possibilities for a future face-to-face meeting at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore later once both sides confirm their attendances, some experts said.

But there are still many uncertainties, which are largely linked to the upcoming actions of the US, or whether the US will challenge and break China's bottom line on its core interests.

A US P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft flew through the Taiwan Straits and hyped it up publicly on Wednesday. The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command organized warplanes to follow, monitor and deal with the trespassing US aircraft in accordance with the law and regulations, the command's spokesperson said.

The theater command troops are on high alert at all times, resolutely safeguarding national sovereign security and regional peace and stability, the spokesperson added.

In a readout issued by the Pentagon on Tuesday, it reiterated that the US remains committed to "our longstanding one China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances, and he reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Strait."

Austin also underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea, according to the readout.

Philippine and US forces will simulate retaking enemy-occupied islands during joint military drills starting next week in areas facing Taiwan and the South China Sea, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

While military communication between China and the US can be regarded as having fully restored, it's evident from the readouts of both sides that China is well aware of US' ulterior motives and tricks, observers said.

On Lai Ching-te, who has been elected as Taiwan's regional leader in January and will take office in May, I believe that Chinese side is definitely sounding the alarm to the US, which is that the US must fulfill its promise not to support Taiwan independence, Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

On the South China Sea issue, China's message is also clear that the US should not support the Philippines in its provocations, as such support won't change the overall situation, the expert said. "China and the relevant countries can manage and maintain the overall stability of the South China Sea, and the US' schemes will not succeed," Wu said.

Caution needed

The China-US relationship has not yet fully emerged from its low point, but it is relatively stable, or rather, "there are still pitfalls ahead, but both sides have lights to guide them," Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"Both parties have flashlights in hand, so they are unlikely to fall into a pit. This is the current situation, but there is still the possibility of accidentally stepping into a pit, so both sides should remain cautious," Lü said.

Despite that the economic and financial working groups of China and the US had substantial dialogue in Washington DC, the US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is reportedly going to tell lawmakers that the Biden administration is "taking a serious look" at US trade defense tools to deal with threats posed by China's trade and economic policies, including a review of Trump-era tariffs on Chinese imports.

"The core issue is that the US no longer adheres to or follows its own established rule, arbitrarily causing the current chaos in the global economic and international trade sectors," Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

It's also difficult to predict whether tensions in the economic and trade sectors between the two countries will ease following the latest interactions, but the two sides could focus on areas of mutual benefits before moving on to topics where there are greater disagreements.

While interactions between China and the US have increased, whether the relationship between the two countries can progress beyond stability is yet to be seen, observers said.

"It seems the US is more concerned with maintaining stability, ensuring that no major issues arise. In contrast, China hopes to address some mutual concerns while maintaining stability, to promote an improvement in bilateral relations," Wu said.

To improve, issues need to be resolved and progress made. However, the US currently shows little interest in moving forward, including in military relations and it is more focused on preventing any accidents or crises than on engaging in extensive military exchanges, the expert said.

The current dynamic is characterized by Washington continuously pressuring China and raising demands, with a lack of a positive and sincere response to China's legitimate concerns. "In this context, Blinken's upcoming visit to China won't be an easy task, and we should not expect significant outcomes," Wu added.

2005- ©Center for American Studies,Fudan University.