Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
June 17, 2023
Now, Beijing Time: high noon of Sunday, June 18, 2023, Secretary Blinken should have started to engage his Chinese counterparts on mending the US-China relation already. A yardstick, whether Blinken’s trip is successful or not, is simply whether Blinken has a meeting with President Xi before he leaves Beijing. Even though such a reception is highly symbolic, there seems to be no other expectations. But if Blinken did not get the reception from Xi, then his visit to Beijing would be deemed a failure.
But it is not the end of the world, if Blinken leaves Beijing “empty handed,” global media have already predicted that no one should expect much before Blinken left for Beijing.
Challenges for Blinken in Beijing actually are rooted at his home base. President Biden has not formally announced his China policy because there would be no bi-partisan support and it is absolutely impossible to separate politics and business in the US. However, US businesses can play the game without much public retribution. But US politicians including Biden and Blinken have to be accountable to the public as well as the congress. Specifically, the US Congress often makes demands public and challenges US politicians preemptively. Thus, foreign nations often are confronted with two distinct messages, even actions, from the US Administration vs Congress.
For example, Blinken will have to bring up the Taiwan issue this time in Beijing. China, on the other hand, has renumerated many times that Taiwan issue is the utmost untouchable redline. So, it is not a matter of the US misunderstands China’s position about Taiwan. Rather, the US and China just fundamentally disagree!
How to manage such a disagreement? If politicians can be as practical as businessmen, they should be able to “agree to disagree” and move on. It is a matter for both the US and China to line-up the priorities and create a meeting agenda that could result in some tangible improvements of bilateral relation. The problem has been that, after Biden moved into the White House, most of the high-level bilateral meetings with China became a platform for repeated mutual accusations and grievance!
We wish Blinken the best of luck in Beijing and hope he is ready to face the challenges.
China’s grudging welcome to Blinken: It’s all about the economy
By Lily Kuo, Washington Post June 16, 2023 at 5:00 a.m. EDT
Anticipation in Beijing about Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s imminent arrival has been, at best, lackluster.
After months of diplomatic freeze following the discovery of a high-altitude Chinese balloon floating over the United States — which derailed Blinken’s original trip to Beijing in February — Chinese and U.S. officials face a yawning gap between the two sides’ interests and positions.
One trip is unlikely to do much to change that.
“In reality, the Chinese side doesn’t harbor hope that Blinken’s visit will result in any meaningful results. You could say China has no hope for this meeting,” said Wang Yong, director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University.
Blinken, he said, “probably won’t be very welcome.”
In a phone call with Blinken on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said it was “clear where the responsibility lies” when it comes to the challenges the U.S.-China relationship faces.
Behind China’s frosty reception is a new sense of confidence. For months, China has hosted world leaders — including U.S. partners like French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — and successfully mediated conflicts like the Saudi-Iran rift.
Beijing has offered to do the same in the Ukraine crisis, casting itself as a peacemaker and foil to the United States. Last month, its special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, traveled to Ukraine and Russia to pitch China’s proposal for ending the conflict.
This week, Xi hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing, where the Chinese offered a three-point plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Honduras, after breaking off relations with Taiwan to recognize China in March, opened an embassy in Beijing on Sunday.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, shakes hands with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. (Jade Gao/Pool/AP)
“China has made diplomatic progress and under these circumstances may feel that now these are the right conditions to deal with the United States,” said Zhao Minghao, professor at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Even as Beijing tries to establish a separate world order that is not dominated by the United States, China still needs — and wants — American investment and trade.
China faces sluggish growth, a property slowdown, record levels of youth unemployment and shrinking foreign investment. China’s central bank this week cut key interest rates and new economic data showed its post-pandemic recovery has lost momentum.
That’s a key part of why Chinese officials has been courting executives such as Bill Gates, who met Xi on Friday.
Xi told Gates during their meeting that the Microsoft co-founder was the first “U.S. friend” he had met in Beijing this year, according to Chinese state media. Xi reportedly added that the future of China-U. S. relations lies with the people.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan and Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk all traveled to Beijing last month to shore up their business interests.
“China hopes the relationship between China and the United States can be improved in part to help its economic recovery and other economic challenges,” said Zhao of Fudan University.
But separating politics and business is difficult.
At the same time, Chinese officials are sending mixed messages. Raids on due-diligence firms operating in China such as Mintz Group and Bain & Company have made other foreign companies nervous. A recent overhaul of the country’s espionage law has foreign executives worried that normal business operations could be deemed illegal.
For its part, the Biden administration has not made the environment easier. On Monday, it blacklisted more than 30 Chinese companies for selling U.S. technology to the Chinese military and is expected to set new limits on U.S. investments in China. Washington has already prohibited the sale of advanced U.S. semiconductors to China.
“Easing ties with the U.S. will help the government’s goal of ‘stable foreign trade, stable foreign investment,’” Zhao said, quoting a government campaign that has gained urgency as Chinese officials insist the country is open again for business.
This is one of the reasons Chinese officials, while giving defense and political officials the cold shoulder, have been meeting with U.S. trade and commerce officials. Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Tai in the U.S. last month.
“Beijing agreed to the visit because it seems to be the one thing that is blocking many other things, such as working level dialogues and the visits by other cabinet members,” said Yun Sun, the director of the China program at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
“It is also important for China not to appear to be the one rejecting dialogue, especially when the U.S. has been pushing for it,” she said.
For China, the trip paves the way for other visits by U.S. officials like special climate envoy John F. Kerry or Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, whose remarks that decoupling from China would be a mistake have won her fans in China.
“I think we gain and China gains from trade and investment that is as open as possible and it would be disastrous for us to attempt to decouple from China,” Yellen told a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Chinese officials are also looking ahead to Xi’s potential appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco in November, where he could meet with Biden. Their last meeting in November on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Bali helped ease tensions.
“If there’s hope of any concrete results from this visit, it may be a signal that China’s leader will visit the U.S. to attend APEC,” said Wang, the Peking University professor. For that to happen, Blinken’s visit would need to create “more positive conditions,” he said.
“Given the current levels of mistrust and tension in the relationship, a good outcome would be a better understanding of each side’s concerns and red lines as well as modest progress on areas of overlapping interest,” said Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor at Cornell University focusing on U.S.-China relations.
China also has areas where it could compromise and collaborate, according to Wang of Peking University. These include climate change, public health and counternarcotics efforts.
Yet one critical sticking point for Beijing is continued U.S. support for Taiwan, which China worries is increasing and undermining U.S. adherence to the “One China” policy. That policy recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China but stops short of accepting Beijing’s claims over Taiwan.
“China has no illusion about the U.S. changing its stance on Taiwan,” said Lau Siu-kai, an emeritus professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Without any possibility of bridging the gap between the two sides on these issues, any rapprochement is impossible.”
Pei-Lin Wu contributed to this report.
Biden gambles that delaying sanctions, playing down espionage will improve China relations
Dan De Luce and Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube and Kayla Tausche
Fri, June 16, 2023 at 12:45 PM PDT
The Biden administration has delayed punitive economic measures against China and played down Beijing’s intensifying intelligence-gathering to avoid jeopardizing its efforts to revive diplomatic talks between the two governments, according to former U.S. officials, congressional aides, Western diplomats and regional experts.
From planned restrictions on investment in China to declassifying intelligence about the origins of the coronavirus, the administration has been “slow walking” certain decisions in recent months as officials have sought to mend relations with Beijing, the sources said. The extensive diplomatic effort culminates this weekend with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s rescheduled visit to Beijing.
“They want to calm the waters with China,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the administration’s deliberations.
Since the U.S. shot down a Chinese balloon in February, the White House has prioritized ensuring that Blinken’s visit goes ahead, as well as other potential trips to Beijing by Cabinet members, including the commerce and treasury secretaries, former officials and congressional aides said.
The administration has also appeared to sidestep questions about China’s surveillance efforts targeting the U.S. to keep the door open for high-level talks between Cabinet officials and their Chinese counterparts.
Biden administration officials denied delaying actions against China and that they have continued to impose sanctions on Chinese organizations in recent months as well as operate military aircraft and naval ships in the region.
“In just the last few months, we’ve taken actions against PRC (People’s Republic of China) entities involved in human rights abuses, forced labor, nonproliferation, and supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine,” said Adam Hodge, acting spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
“We’ve continued to uphold freedom of navigation in the region by flying, sailing, and operating wherever international law allows. We’ll continue to take additional steps in the period ahead in economics, technology, security, and other arenas to advance our interests and values.”
But Administration officials have provided no public update since a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the U.S. before being downed by an American fighter jet in February.
Asked why the administration has not released more information about the balloon, the administration official said: “I would not anticipate the release of sensitive information regarding the analysis of the balloon debris.”
On Thursday, 19 Republican senators wrote to Biden denouncing what they called the administration’s lack of transparency over the balloon episode.
They say that the administration’s approach is misguided and that China is not holding back on retaliatory measures against the U.S., including imposing sanctions on the U.S. tech firm Micron Technology.
“The United States can no longer afford to keep chasing Chinese leaders for meetings and should not delay competitive actions in order to do so,” said Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. For their part, the Chinese are not “pausing” any tough measures directed at the U.S., he said.
Before Biden met Xi, his administration rattled Beijing in October when it imposed unprecedented export controls designed to block China’s access to sophisticated chipmaking tools that Washington said could be used by the Chinese military. Japan and the Netherlands say they are adopting similar restrictions.
The administration was expected to follow up with more restrictions on U.S.-made semiconductor technology, as well as a new executive order on any American investment linked to China’s defense industry. But it has yet to move ahead.
Emily Benson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said that the initial export restrictions last year caused some consternation in private industry. Plans to expand those restrictions have been the subject of internal debate in the administration and protracted discussions with allied governments. The administration also is mindful of Blinken’s coming visit, she said.
“Announcing new restrictive measures in the lead-up to a meeting could derail the meeting completely,” Benson said.
She said the administration, as a result, has faced “a complicated mix of domestic political pressures and foreign diplomatic considerations” as it tries to find the ideal time to unveil the new measures, she said.
The administration is clearly delaying the release of the executive order on investment restrictions to avoid friction with China before Blinken arrives, as well as a likely trip by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, possibly over the summer, according to a person briefed regularly by the administration and a former official.
The measures the White House has postponed do not represent major concessions, the former congressional official said, and the overall U.S. policy to China has not changed, including viewing Beijing as a competitor that must be countered and deterred.
It is not realistic to fight over every disagreement, this person added. “When every issue is a problem, you have to pick and choose.”