Is China working for a resumption of the stalled high-level dialogue with the United States? Information slowly trickles in about the visit to New York of a group of former Chinese officials in early November as part of the largest semi-official diplomatic initiative in Sino-American since the Covid outbreak. While both are ready to appreciate each other’s position on bilateral issues, they are yet to see eye to eye on the Taiwan question.
It was a nine-day trip that concluded around the time President Xi Jinping and United States President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. The media in both countries saw the visit as an effort by both sides to de-escalate bilateral tensions.
The Chinese delegation was led by Wang Chao, a former vice-minister of foreign affairs and the director and party chief of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, a state-affiliated civil diplomacy organization. Members included former business, trade and finance officials, as well as scholars in the fields of diplomacy and defence. They included former commerce minister Chen Deming, Cui Tiankai, the former Chinese ambassador to the US, and the heads of a solar power company and a car parts company.
The group met former US officials and executives led by Maurice Greenberg, the former chairman and CEO of insurer American International Group. The delegation also met former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, 99, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Michael Mullen, 76, and former ambassadors to China Max Baucus, 80, and Terry Branstad, 76. Lu Xiang, a Sino-US relations specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the trip was a positive sign for the resumption of dialogue between China and the US.
Chinese watchers had been expecting such an initiative after President Xi got his third term of power and began interacting with the outside world, even travelling abroad for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemics.
What was high on the agenda for the Chinese delegation? It is difficult to get a statement out of the communist leadership in China about this, but the closest one comes to an answer is in the form of an interview conducted by Chinese media outlet, Guancha.cn, with Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University. Professor Wu is a member of the Chinese delegation which was headed by Wang Chao, a former vice-minister of foreign affairs.
Prof Wu said of the mission’s objective: “During the dialogue, we had a candid and in-depth discussion of some important issues concerning China-U.S. relations. The discussion focused on how to improve and develop the bilateral relations. Despite some disagreements, we put forward many constructive opinions in a very pragmatic and calm way. In the current political atmosphere for China-U.S. relations, the dialogue was hard to come by. It can be said that the dialogue has played a positive role in the improvement and development of the bilateral relations, demonstrating the important friendly force of China and the US.”
He felt at the end of the visit that they may have been a “significant change in how the US sees its relationship” with China. He, however, admitted that most of the American think tanks the delegation met in the US were divided on the Sino-US relations.
“Some think US-China conflicts are inevitable. They believe the US should further contain and suppress China, and decouple from China in all aspects such as economy, technology, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The US wants to reduce its reliance on China in terms of industrial and supply chains. And it is trying to prevent China from benefiting from China-US exchanges. Besides, they also agitate for making preparations for the worst scenario, or major US-China conflicts.” At the same time, some other scholars advocated “enhancing communication between the two countries and promote pragmatic cooperation in some areas”.
Prof Wu was of the opinion that in general, “most of them take a pessimistic view of US-China relations, and their view is gaining an upper hand in the US. Few now have the courage to express a positive attitude publicly”.
According to him, The US is interested in understanding “whether the Chinese economy could maintain robust growth momentum, and whether China would continue the reform and opening up policy”. Fundamentally, they’re thinking about “whether and how they can benefit from economic and trade ties with China”.
The second issue close to the US is the Taiwan question. Prof Wu pointed out: “…from the standpoint of their strategic interests, they actually don’t hope to see the reunification of Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, because (they think) secession across the Taiwan Strait is in the best interest of the US. They even believe as long as the US could maintain reliable deterrence to the Chinese mainland and intensify deterrence in military, diplomacy, and economy, the US would be able to intimidate the Chinese mainland and obstruct China’s reunification process.”
He was clearly of the view that the US “proactively making preparations for a conflict in the Taiwan Strait when it happens”. On the One China policy, he surmised: “When China and the US established diplomatic relations, the US explicitly undertook to pursue the one-China policy in terms of the Taiwan question. But now the US is increasingly regarding Taiwan as an independent, sovereign entity, and continuously enhancing its relationship with Taiwan. The US is in fact returning back to the ‘one China, one Taiwan’ policy.”