Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
May 22, 2023
The just concluded G7 summit in Japan has some surprises:
- Biden had to cut short his itinerary and went home immediately after the summit. The US faces a short deadline of default.
- Japan invited a few global powers who are not G7 members to side meetings at the Summit. It is not clear whether G7 as a group benefited or Japan as the host scored the most points.
- President Zelenskyy of Ukraine was invited and showed up at the summit. He got assurance from G7 for continued support for his war.
The joint communique after the summit was surprisingly soft on China and unilaterally re-defined the relationship with China:
- “We’re not looking to decouple from China, we’re looking to de-risk and diversify our relationship with China.”
- G7 leaders “stand prepared to build constructive and stable relations with China.”
Thus, Biden predicts thaw in relations with China. Biden also hinted that “he could speak with the Chinese President soon.”
But China’s response to Biden’s prediction was predictably low key. Talk is cheap and changing rhetoric only goes so far. Let us see what happens next!
Sun, May 21, 2023 at 12:52 PM PDT
President Biden on Sunday predicted a “thaw” in U.S.-China relations after the “silly” surveillance balloon incident earlier this year.
“And then this silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars’ worth of spying equipment was flying over the United States, and it got shot down, and everything changed in terms of talking to one another. I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly,” Biden said at a press conference in Hiroshima, where he was for the Group of Seven summit.
Tensions between the two global powers had heightened due to the pandemic and economic issues, and were further exacerbated in March after the Biden administration shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon that had floated for days over U.S. airspace. Beijing insisted the aircraft was a civilian weather device.
China’s stance on the democratically governed Taiwan and its partnership with Russia amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine have also strained relations.
Leaders at the G7 summit urged China to pressure Russia to end the war.
Biden stressed the G7’s position on China, as released in a joint communiqué: “We’re not looking to decouple from China, we’re looking to de-risk and diversify our relationship with China.”
The global leaders said in their joint statement that they “stand prepared to build constructive and stable relations with China” because of Beijing’s “role in the international community and the size of its economy, on global challenges as well as areas of common interest.”
“Our policy approaches are not designed to harm China nor do we seek to thwart China’s economic progress and development. A growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest,” the joint statement reads.
Biden hints at thaw in China ties, but US’ sincerity in doubt
Improvement to be superficial as overall atmosphere still negative: expert
Published: May 22, 2023 09:39 PM
Following the latest G7 summit and Quad meeting that outlined a strong stance against China and ramped up efforts to hype China-related issues, US President Joe Biden adopted an apparently softer tone by claiming that the frosty bilateral relations between China and the US will begin to “thaw” very shortly, hoping to open more lines of communication with China and hinting at easing sanctions on a Chinese official.
Chinese experts believe that Biden’s message was sent as the G7 is somehow divided on how to deal with China and as Washington itself faces growing domestic economic woes and international dilemmas like the Ukraine crisis. While they hold a cautious attitude on whether Biden’s rhetoric toward China will turn into a reality, some experts pointed out that the necessary conditions for US-China relations to “thaw” is Washington respecting Beijing’s core interests and fulfilling its commitment instead of “saying one thing and doing another.”
Any real improvement in China-US relations depends on whether the US takes concrete actions to create a positive atmosphere.
“China and the US have maintained the necessary communication, but if the US uses any means to suppress and contain China and imposes sanctions on Chinese officials and enterprises, what is the sincerity and significance of such communication?” Mao Ning, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said during a press conference on Monday.
Biden’s message reflected the paradoxical mindset of the US and some Western countries, some experts said. On the one hand, Washington has been ramping up efforts to smear and distort China-related matters in order to keep Beijing under pressure for dialogue while maintaining pressure on its allies to adopt a similar stance. On the other hand, some of its allies, such as France and Germany, prefer to find opportunities in China’s development and oppose political, economic and military confrontation with China, which makes the divergences inside the Western bloc even more apparent.
Despite the US’ lack of sincerity in its communications with China, coupled with its ill-intentioned attempts to contain China, it’s necessary for the two countries to keep communication channels open to keep some divergences under control, some experts said, who also believe that the necessary condition for easing bilateral relations is the US government matching its words with its actions.
Biden on Sunday said the G7 nations had agreed on “a united approach” to China that called for “diversifying supply chains” to reduce dependence on any one country, and hinted that “he could speak with the Chinese President soon,” Reuters reported.
G7 leaders outlined a shared approach to “de-risk, not decouple” economic engagement with China, and Biden further explained that this approach means taking steps to “diversify supply chains,” “resist economic coercion and protect advance technologies for national security.” Some US media outlets such as the New York Times described this “newly fashionable term” as reflecting an evolution in the discussion on dealing with China, as the term “de-risking” caught on after a speech by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, in March before her trip to China.
Sincerity in question
The US government has been intensifying its technological and political wrestling with China and has been pressuring the bloc’s six other countries to take the same stance. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is facing an intensifying partisan struggle on debt standoff and a looming recession in coming months, in addition to the Ukraine crisis that has become an unsustainable burden, all of which led to the change in rhetoric, Lü noted.
However, some experts expressed doubt over whether that changing rhetoric could turn into action and whether the Biden administration will take the necessary steps to create a favorable atmosphere for the true improvement of bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, the US may push for some cabinet-level officials to visit China, Wu said, noting that such an “improvement” may only be superficial as the overall atmosphere between the two countries is still negative.
Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao will travel to the US this week for meetings with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Tai, US media NBC News reported on Friday.
Mao, the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the Chinese side has always developed China-US relations following the principle of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. “We urge the US side to correct its understanding of China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and meet China halfway to take concrete actions to get China-US ties back on the right track,” she said.