Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
March 23, 2023
It is encouraging that the US and China held the reported “in-depth exchange of views on US-China relations and other topics.” It can be termed as 1.5 tract contacts because “China guru” from the US Statement represents the US government with full credential, but the Chinese side is represented by a think tank, does not officially represent the Chinese government.
Further, the event took place in Shanghai rather than in Beijing, the seat of Chinese government. It matters not, because these exchanges can be franker and more productive than track one talk in the national capital. US-China relation is very tense and complex, some fresh specific/clear messages/issues will have to be defined before any formal meetings aimed at re-set.
But it will send a negative message if the US government delegation does not visit Beijing and meet with their Chinese counterparts in the same trip. It could signal that US and China are not ready to make any official contact yet. If so, no US high level officials including Blinken, Yellen, and Raimondo et al. will be in Beijing anytime soon. It also means that Biden and Xi must talk again first.
Is Blinken visit a step closer with State Department’s China guru trip?
Thu, March 23, 2023 at 2:30 AM PDT
The head of the US State Department’s “China House” visited a Shanghai think tank on Wednesday, on a trip that experts say may pave the way for more senior dialogue between the two nations.
Rick Waters, who is also the deputy assistant secretary of state for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, met Yang Jiemian and Chen Dongxiao, former and current presidents of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS).
Yang, a respected strategic affairs scholar and influential figure in China’s diplomatic establishment, is better known as the younger brother of former foreign policy chief and Politburo member Yang Jiechi, who stepped down in October.
In a post on social media platform WeChat, the SIIS said the two sides “had an in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations and other topics”, without elaborating.
According to a brief SIIS press release, Waters was accompanied by diplomats from the US consulate in Shanghai.
Also joining the meeting were Shao Yuqun, director of the Institute for Taiwan, Hong Kong & Macau Studies, and Zhang Chong, an assistant researcher at the Centre for American Studies.
While Waters’ full itinerary was unclear, it was the first public trip to China by a senior US diplomat since December.
On that visit, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and National Security Council senior director for China and Taiwan Laura Rosenberger travelled to Langfang, a city near Beijing, as part of the preparations for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing.
Lu Xiang, a specialist on US-China relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Waters’ trip was part of the “working level communication” between the two countries, but could also pave the way for a rearranged visit by Blinken.
“I think [Waters] is on a mission to prepare for Blinken’s visit to Beijing, to touch base or to consult [with the Chinese side],” he said.
Blinken called off his planned visit – his first as Washington’s top diplomat – in the middle of the balloon crisis in early February, when the US shot down a suspected Chinese spying device.
Since then, confrontations between Beijing and Washington have grown increasingly bitter, over Taiwan, supply chain issues, China’s deepening partnership with Russia, and Beijing’s neutral position on the Ukraine war.
Beijing has blamed Washington for escalating tensions. In his first press conference as foreign minister, Qin Gang – previously China’s ambassador to the US – warned of catastrophic consequences if Washington failed to “hit the brakes” and let bilateral ties go downhill.
While both the US and China have called for efforts to mend their deteriorating ties, hopes for a quick rapprochement are slim, but there have been some signs of improvement.
Earlier in March, US President Joe Biden said he would soon speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the phone, but no timeline was given.
On Monday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that a potential trip to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was in the works.