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Blinken's China speech: views from Beijing
“I believe that during Biden's presidency, China-U.S. relations will spiral downward and will be prone to fluctuation, with the possibility of crises and risks running high."
In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized the Biden administration's China strategy as "invest, align and compete."
Today's newsletter offers you a translation of interviews of several mainstream Chinese scholars with their comments on Blinken’s speech and Joe Biden administration’s China strategy.
In addition, this newsletter also includes former editor in chief of Global Times Hu Xijin's views on the speech.
The translation hasn’t been reviewed by the media which conducted the interview or the interviewees, so it should only serve as a reference, not as an official translation of the original text. Ginger River also includes the links to the original text in this newsletter.
And if you want to learn more about China-U.S. relations, especially how the U.S. side sees and deals with it, Ginger River recommends the May 26 Sinica Podcast (audio) (transcript) with Demetri Sevastopulo, the U.S.-China Correspondent at the Financial Times, hosted by Kaiser Kuo at SupChina. It's a long interview, but it's very informative.
Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies of Fudan University
The following is part of his interview for the Wechat account of Guancha.cn. It was posted on May 28
Guancha: What are your thoughts on Blinken's speech on the U.S.’ current China strategy?
Wu Xinbo: Blinken's speech has revealed three changes in the U.S. policy.
The first change is that the United States is now hoping to increase direct contact and communication with China. At the beginning of his presidency, Biden and his administration did not appear to have placed much emphasis to U.S.-China relations, nor did there appear to be much enthusiasm on the U.S. side to engage with China. So after last year's high-level meeting between the two countries in Alaska, the U.S. side stated that it would evaluate the need for such contacts in the future. The Biden administration appeared to believe that they were already nice enough to agree to meet with the Chinese side, and that engagement with China was a gesture of charity. But now, Blinken has stated unequivocally that the United States stands ready to increase direct communication with Beijing across a wide range of issues. In fact, we began to see this change in the second half of 2021. Biden's three phone calls and video meetings with President Xi Jinping, Blinken's calls with Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, and Sullivan's call and meetings with Yang Jiechi, all demonstrate that the U.S. has realized that it cannot afford not to communicate with China.
Secondly, in terms of U.S.-China cooperation, Blinken this time mentioned more priorities that require the U.S. and China to work together than previously. Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, nonproliferation and arms control, illegal and illicit narcotics, the global food crisis, global macroeconomic coordination, and other issues were among these priorities. Previously, when the U.S. side talks about Sino-U.S. cooperation, they would only bring up climate change or issues for which they needed Chinese assistance, such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear issue, etc. Its general attitude in the past was rather lukewarm. This time, Blinken was more specific.
Thirdly, the United States now prioritizes responses to risks and crises when dealing with China. Not long ago, Chinese and U.S. defense ministers spoke on the phone about maritime and air security issues. This shows that the U.S. side is aware of the growing risks of a crisis between the two countries and is thus paying closer attention to it.
Fourth, Blinken stated at the end of his speech that there is no reason why two countries cannot "coexist peacefully" - the wording here has also changed. Last year during his meeting with President Xi, Biden suggested coexistence between China and the U.S. And President Xi said that one more word can be added to make it “peaceful coexistence.” The change in wording by the U.S. side demonstrates that it accepts this concept of peaceful coexistence, at least verbally.
Guancha: The United States, according to Blinken, is "not looking for conflict or a new Cold War" with China. At the same time, he emphasized that China is the United States' sole “biggest competitor," and he announced the formation of a "China House," a department-wide integrated team to coordinate and implement policy across issues and regions. He underscored the importance of shaping the strategic environment around Beijing, citing partnerships with the IPEF、QUAD、AUKUS in this regard. What are your thoughts on this? And in your opinion, how should China react to this?
Wu Xinbo: What should China do under such circumstances? Here I have two points to make.
First, we should use geoeconomics to hedge against the geopolitics of the United States. The formation of political and security cliques to counter China is at the heart of U.S. geopolitics. In contrast, our geo-economics is about having extensive economic cooperation with countries in the region, whether it’s South Korea, Japan or southeast Asian countries, and we try to engage in all forms of economic cooperation with them, whether it’s bilateral or multilateral collaboration and so on.
Secondly, we shall not play the ideological card in our foreign policy. China's diplomacy has become more dynamic and its international influence has grown significantly since the start of our reform and opening-up drive. This is because we have pursued a flexible and pragmatic foreign policy in keeping with the times. We should continue to pursue this policy, continue to promote peaceful development and win-win cooperation, continue to advance globalization and global governance, and continue to advance the building of a neighborhood community with a shared future and a community of shared future for mankind. We should not follow the lead of the United States in emphasizing competition between our different political systems and values. If we did, we would fall into the trap of the United States.
Guancha: In his speech, Blinken also stated that Biden believes this decade will be decisive (for China-U.S. relations.) What is your outlook and opinion on China-U.S. relations under the Biden presidency? What do you think Biden means by his definition of a “decisive decade?” Why is this decade “decisive?” What will be the major and decisive moments of change in the international order in this decade?
Wu Xinbo: I think what Biden means by calling this decade "decisive" is that China may overtake the United States in economic size by the end of the decade. This is their greatest fear, and the United States is doing everything it can to prevent it from happening.
And this brings us back to the fundamental goals of the United States' China policy, which we just discussed: first, to thwart and contain China's rise; and second, to limit China's international influence.
I believe that during Biden's presidency, China-U.S. relations will spiral downward and will be prone to fluctuation, with the possibility of crises and risks running high.
By "spiraling downward," I mean that the current state of Sino-U.S. relations is unlikely to improve significantly. On top of that, it will be “prone to fluctuate", i.e. unstable. As the U.S. has taken various measures to suppress and contain China, these measures will have a lasting impact on the China-U.S. relations, potentially leading to crises and risks, especially when it comes to the Taiwan issue, the South China Sea issue, and other issues.
In the future, China and the U.S. will compete fiercely in a variety of fields, such as diplomacy, security, economy, science and technology, and finance. Meanwhile, the cooperation between the two countries will be limited. It will not play a significant role in Sino-U.S. relations and is unlikely to bring about significant improvements in bilateral ties.
As for the future of the international system in the next 10 years, I believe it is very likely to become one of division.
To begin with, there is a clear trend toward division in the international economy and trade system. Already the U.S. is in the process of "desinicization" in many areas. And we also see that many countries in the international community are in the middle of "de-dollarization." As a result, a fractured international economic and trade system is unavoidable.
Secondly, the global governance system would also be severely weakened, if not fractured. There will be doubts about whether the G20, for example, can still truly play its role as the main platform for macroeconomic coordination in the global economy. Cooperation in global governance was supposed to transcend geopolitics and ideology, but the United States is increasingly introducing geopolitical and ideological elements into these platforms, putting the system itself at risk.
The third is the alignment of international relations. Soon there may be three camps, one built around the United States, one around Russia, and one in the middle. In this sense, the post-Cold War international system of great power cooperation, globalization, and global governance is coming to an end.
Diao Daming, researcher at the National Academy of Development and Strategy of Renmin University of China
Su Xiaohui, Deputy Director and Associate Research Fellow of the Department for American Studies, CIIS.
Jia Qingguo, professor and former Dean of the School of International Studies of Peking University
The following is part of the three experts' interview for 侠客岛 Xiakedao, a social media account run by the overseas edition of the People's Daily. The interview was posted on Wechat on May 30.
Q: In his speech, Blinken emphasized that the United States' Taiwan policy "has not changed." However, we have seen repeated attempts on the U.S. side, either explicitly or implicitly, to hollow out the one-China principle, including Biden's alleged "slip of the tongue" during his recent Asian visit. What are your thoughts on the current U.S. administration’s "strategic ambiguity" on the Taiwan issue?
Diao Daming: "Strategic ambiguity" is intended to prevent conflicting positions on specific issues from escalating into uncontrollable confrontations by maintaining a certain level of deterrence while allowing for some strategic leeway on those issues. However, with an increasing number of U.S. politicians recently making negative statements about Taiwan, there are signs of a policy shift toward greater clarity, so we can no longer base our assessment of the U.S. position on Taiwan on "strategic ambiguity."
Su Xiaohui: Thanks to Biden's "slip of tongue," and the revision of Taiwan fact sheet on the website of the U.S. State Department, Washington has already gotten what they want. And they put on a show to clarify that the U.S. policy towards Taiwan remains unchanged since it does not take much effort. For the time being, Washington believes time is not ripe yet to switch to “strategic clarity,” so it will continue to play the "Taiwan card" to its advantage while keeping the Chinese side in check lest the situation spiral out of control. But we have to be clear-minded, that the one-China principle has served as the foundation for the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the United States. It will be very dangerous for the U.S. to overturn such a consensus and hollow out the one-China principle.
This year, the United States has played many tricks on the Taiwan issue. Washington appears to believe that, with a major political agenda set for later this year, China would “tolerate” such tricks or even “swallow the bitter fruit" in exchange for stability. China will demonstrate to the United States through concrete actions that it will vigorously defend its core interests if anyone infringes on them at any time. External suppression and containment against China will fail on their own as long as China remains committed to its cause.
Q: Blinken noted in his speech that domestically, the U.S. will make historic investments in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other fields, and draw supply chains to the U.S. And externally, Washington launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) to tighten its economic encirclement of China. What do you think Washington's goals are with these strategies?
Jia Qingguo: Drawing supply chains to the U.S. is easier said than done. American enterprises will not agree to this, nor will other countries. Furthermore, it will do far more harm than good to the U.S. economy, undermining its comparative advantage in foreign trade and harming relations with other countries. What it really meant was to "keep supply chains outside of China."
As for the IPEF, its launching seems a significant step that could change the regional economic landscape, but its real-world significance is limited. The Biden administration wanted a return to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But he does not have enough support at home, so he ended up constructing a framework with little binding force. Some countries have expressed an interest in joining the framework, but do they really think they can benefit from it? Or is it just a gesture to the U.S.? Gestures are free anyway.
Diao: Washington’s plan to boost investment in technology shows that the U.S. has fully recognized that high-tech fields are critical to future competition between China and the United States. Although the IPEF was designed to isolate China, the framework is in itself problematic and may deliver little of what was intended. China will be able to defeat America's "external-attribution" ruse, as long as it sticks to its own agenda, and follow through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Su Xiaohui: The IPEF's goal is to establish rules and build barriers to keep China out of industrial chains and high-tech fields. Next, it could even go so far as to prohibit countries within the framework from participating in projects involving Chinese enterprises and technologies. China must remain vigilant in the face of this possibility.
Hu Xijin, Former Editor in Chief of the Global Times, special commentator
The following is part of the comment by Hu published on his Weibo on May 26.
Hu Xijin: Since the Trump period, China has been at odds with the United States for several years, and we should be able to draw some lessons:
To begin with, it is impossible to defuse the political elite's hostility toward China, and nothing we can do is likely to change Washington's perception of China as a "strategic competitor."
Secondly, it should be noted that the United States does not have as much power and means to suppress China as they believe. The U.S. is under a mistaken illusion that it could decouple from China, but it can't bear the self-inflicted damage that would entail. So they are very torn, undecided, and unsure when it comes to specific measures to contain China.
Thirdly, because of the aforementioned undecidedness and the resulting ambiguity, there is still a realistic possibility of avoiding the extreme deterioration of China-U.S. relations and maintaining a basic level of people-to-people exchanges and cooperation. China must make all necessary efforts to stabilize Sino-U.S. relations as much as possible and slow the rate of its deterioration.
And finally, China must keep the worst-case scenario in mind and strengthen its preparedness for intense confrontations with the U.S. if it infringes on China's core interests. Most importantly, China must strengthen out own capacity building, which includes the strengthening of its strategic deterrence against the United States. This is the most fundamental way to prevent hardliners in the U.S. from engaging in strategic adventurism against China.
Time is on China's side in the U.S.-China competition. In general, the U.S. can't really harm China. The most fundamental way for China to defeat the U.S.' containment strategy is to develop and remain committed to our own cause.