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Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum

626-376-7460

[email protected]

December 24, 2023

The following two news reports from China give us a chance to understand China’s perspectives on US-China relation respectively what they see in 2023 and what they foresee in 2024. The US and China are in a highly competitive state, it is critical to clearly understand each other’s perspectives or expectations.

It is clear that China considers that US-China relation stabilized by the end of 2023. The breakthrough was made at the Biden-Xi summit in November in San Fransico. It is important to recognize that the two major breakdowns were:

  1. Then speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, insisted on visiting Taiwan in 2022.
  2. The Chinese “spy ballon” episode in February 2023.

Lessons should be learned by both the US and China in managing similar episodes in the future. It is also clear that summits between heads-of-states are crucial in global diplomacy.

Looking ahead, China does not expect much progress in US-China bilateral relation in 2024. The US domestic issues, mainly the general election in early November of 2024 will consume most of the “political energy” in the US year-round. On the other hand, China seems to recognize that US attitude toward China has been cast, no matter who is in the White House.

However, China will invest in re-set the long-term US-China bilateral relation by enhancing grassroots people-people exchanges. Further, China is looking beyond the US and vying for geopolitics. This notion is of significance for the new global order especially in case the US turns to isolationism after the election.

Yearender: China-US interactions increase during a turbulent year of bilateral relations, help stabilize ties

By GT staff reporters Published: Dec 24, 2023 08:36 PM

China-US relations have undergone a turbulent year in 2023, from the US hyping “balloon incident,” to Washington’s continuous attempt to crackdown on China on almost every front, while the summit meeting between the two heads of state in San Francisco in November brought temporary detente. Although the US still largely holds competition as the dominant theme of bilateral ties, interactions on people-to-people exchanges, climate issue, drug control and some other areas between the two countries have increased.  

Experts said those interactions can help consolidate guardrails of China-US relations, and help form a driving force that may lead to more cooperation between the two countries, thus will be conducive to stabilizing an unpredictable bilateral relationship. Whether the world’s most important bilateral ties can be less tumultuous in 2024 than this year, it depends on Washington’s ability to avoid spillover effects of US domestic politics, such as the presidential election, and both countries’ willingness, as well as ability to solve specific issues troubling bilateral relations and expand areas of cooperation, said experts. 

The Chinese Embassy in the US held an event recently to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of Ping-Pong Diplomacy. The Peking University table tennis team was invited to attend the commemorating events in Washington and San Francisco. The team has also participated in the 2023 USATT Table Tennis Open Championships at the Ontario Convention Center in California, the Xinhua News Agency reported on December 18.

“What impressed me the most is the huge interest and enthusiasm the American youth showed during our visit to the US this time,” Zhang Yuwen, a student from the Peking University table tennis team, told the Global Times. “Every time the Americans saw the name ‘China’ marked on our jerseys, they would come to ask where in China we come from; which games we play, and even wish us good luck in our games.”

“We saw great examples of how people-to-people ties and educational and cultural exchanges can overcome political and ideological differences during the summer of 2023 at our Invention Convention China (ICC) Finals event held in Zhengzhou, Henan Province,” Adam Foster, president of the Helen Foster Snow Foundation in the US, told the Global Times. 

The ICC is one of the largest invention educational activities in the world. Every year, more than 140,000 students from around the globe take part. The Helen Foster Snow Foundation has been supporting ICC China for a long time, which has since become an opportunity to promote non-governmental educational exchanges. 

“In today’s tense US-China political climate, sometimes harsh rhetoric and dehumanizing language is used. We hope that people on both sides can contend peacefully to defend their legitimate interests and viewpoints while remembering that the people of the two countries have so much in common,” said Foster, hoping that people-to-people exchanges can help to ease tensions and remind both sides of the long list of things they have in common.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said at a welcome dinner by friendly organizations after the San Francisco summit in the US last month that China is ready to invite 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years to increase exchanges between the two peoples, especially between the youth.

Xi also said Pandas have long been envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples and China is ready to continue the cooperation with the US on panda conservation.

The US would welcome back any giant pandas China decides to send, the White House said right after Xi’s remarks.

The importance of non-governmental exchange can never be underestimated as it serves as important channel for both sides to form objective and true understanding about each other, and it will help prevent misunderstanding and misjudgment between the two countries, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. 

Necessary interactions 

The interactions between China and the US this year have reached a new level, the highest in at least the past five years, Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday, referring to not only frequent high-level officials’ visits, but also consultation on issues including trade, drug control and climate change. 

Liu Zhenli, a Central Military Commission (CMC) member and the chief of the CMC’s Joint Staff Department, on Thursday held a video teleconference with CQ Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US, at the latter’s request.

During San Francisco summit meeting, China and the US also agreed to establish a working group on counternarcotics cooperation.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin commented that counternarcotics authorities of China and the US are resuming regular communication. Recently, China has been engaged in campaigns against fentanyl and its precursor chemicals, and cracked down on illegal and criminal activities involving the smuggling, illicit manufacturing, trafficking and abuse of fentanyl-related substances, said Wang.

The US also lifted sanctions on “Drug Analysis Division I, National Narcotics Laboratory” last month by removing it from the “Commerce Entity List”

Before the COP28 meeting in Dubai, China and the US jointly released Sunnyland climate agreement in mid-November. The Chinese and American teams have worked together to support the success of COP28, which was also one of the goals of the previous joint climate statement between the two countries, Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate change affairs, said at a press conference along with US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

Interactions on those areas suggest that both countries are sincere about achieving concrete results in specific collaborations, experts said, therefore, joint cooperations on those areas aim to further strengthen general cooperation between the two sides and, where possible, facilitate cooperation in other areas that are difficult to cooperate on, said Li, noting that those interactions are very helpful for maintaining stability and long-term development of the China-US relationship.

Looking forward, Wu said that the successful holding of the San Francisco summit, where a series of important consensuses were reached, has become a highlight of China-US relations in recent years, or could be seen as a new starting point for China-US relations. 

“While the summit meeting in San Francisco has helped to stabilize China-US relations, the question now is whether we can move forward. Can we resolve specific issues disrupting bilateral relations and expand areas of cooperation? I believe this is possible, so next year’s China-US relations are likely to show a distinct dual nature,” said Wu. Particularly noteworthy is next year’s US election

Next year’s China-US relations are expected to stabilize, said Li, explaining that the effect to stabilize the relations brought about by the intensive interactions between China and the US in the second half of this year will continue into next year. 

Moreover, although the US may adopt an unfriendly rhetoric towards China during next year’s presidential election, it will be difficult for Washington to roll out new policies in an election year, said Li, noting that the negative spillover effects of domestic politics in the US on China-US relations will be especially important to watch. 

OPINION / OBSERVER

Restructuring China-US relations in 2024 is fraught with uncertainties

By Global Times Published: Dec 24, 2023 08:11 PM

As the calendar turns from page to page, we stand at the door of a new year, with a glimmer of optimism amid tensions in the US-China relationship. Two recent developments cast a bright light of hope for the future: the advancement of direct US-China military talks and the possible resumption of narcotics control discussions. These events are more than isolated diplomatic gestures. They represent a mutual willingness to stabilize one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships.

The US-China relationship is an important fulcrum for balancing the global order. Its stability or lack thereof has far-reaching implications for regional and international peace and security.
However, it is important to recognize that the path to restructuring this complex relationship is fraught with uncertainty. This uncertainty, to global and Chinese observers, is precisely another defining and certain effect of the evolution of American politics, like an absurd drama. The script of US politics has changed, and the relationship with China cannot be separated from that script and become a theater on its own

Therefore, the China-US relationship is also affected by the uncertainty of the evolution of the domestic political drama in the US, and it is precisely because of this uncertainty that containing China will continue to be the main theme of US foreign policy, and the future development of China-US relations will still be full of conflicts. China is clearly aware of and prepared for this.

After a year marked by the US crackdown on Chinese enterprises and “made-in-China” on a broad scale, it is apparent that the US strategy to counter China’s rise has solidified and is irreversible. In response, China is poised to adopt a more assertive stance, preparing for potential countermeasures and strategic “breakthroughs.” 

In the new year, China’s advancements in high technology, exemplified by its burgeoning electric car industry, rebuilding the world trade networks, as well as playing an active peace role in international hot issues, signal a renewed momentum in its economic transformation and a more proactive diplomatic posture. These developments could play a critical role in reshaping US-China relations.

Looking ahead, the challenge for both countries is not merely to restructure their bilateral relationship but to redefine their political, economic and trade relations with the rest of the world. The concept of “decoupling” has dominated much of the discourse, but the future may demand a focus on “reconnecting” – establishing stable communication mechanisms and maintaining essential connections not only between the two countries, but also with the world. The scene begins to change to a wider international background. 

Even more pressing is how both countries will forge new global connections. This will have a significant influence on the global supply and trade chains, as well as how the world order evolves.

The US, for its part, is likely to persist in its efforts to build coalitions aimed at marginalizing and containing China. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent remarks underscore a commitment to engage China from a “position of strength” and leverage alliances in the Indo-Pacific region.

While such rhetoric has been overused, it reflects a broader strategic approach that extends beyond the bilateral relationship to encompass global geopolitical dynamics. The shifting focus of the international background raises the question of how China will navigate this environment, seeking to promote peaceful development conducive to its interests. 

When people see more chaos from the political drama in Washington, especially when they no longer expect this hegemonic country to solve global problems, including existing wars and conflicts, their attention will gradually shift to the performance of China and other major countries in the global landscape.

The US will continue to rely on its own strength to contain China. However, as more and more countries seek to enhance bilateral or multilateral cooperation and approaches based on their own national interests, the US’ pursuit will inevitably become gradually ineffective. China’s approach to carving out its place in the global community may well be more consequential for the trajectory of this century than the specifics of US containment strategies.

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