Top Chinese diplomat calls for China, U.S. to mend relations

China’s top diplomat called on Tuesday for Beijing and Washington to put relations back on a predictable and constructive path, and also says Washington and Beijing can use Covid-19 and climate change as ‘priority areas’ for cooperation.
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Member of the Politburo of the Communist party of China Yang Jiechi speaks with Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah (not pictured) during a meeting in Beijing, China September 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters

Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, is the highest ranking Chinese leader to speak on China-U.S. relations since President Joe Biden took office.

Under the Trump administration, U.S. relations with China plunged to their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979, as both sides clashed over issues ranging from trade and technology to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, and the South China Sea.

While reassuring the United States that China has no intention to challenge or replace the U.S. position in the world, Yang stressed that no force can hold back China’s development.

Also, China’s top diplomat warned the US not to cross the country’s “red line,” in a pointed speech that pushed back against early moves by President Joe Biden to press Beijing on human rights.

But he placed the onus on the US to repair the damage caused by the “misguided policies” of former President Donald Trump, according to the Reuters.

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Mr Yang spoke at an online forum organised by the National Committee on US-China Relations on Tuesday.PHOTO: AFP

“We in China hope that the United States will rise above the outdated mentality of zero-sum, major-power rivalry and work with China to keep the relationship on the right track,” Yang said, a former foreign minister.

Yang urged the US to stop “harassing Chinese students, restricting Chinese media outlets, shutting down Confucius Institutes and suppressing Chinese companies” and said Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang affairs were a “red line that must not be crossed.”

The speech to the National Committee on US-China Relations represented Beijing’s most high-profile appeal to an American audience since Biden took power on Jan 20.

Yang reasserted that China is prepared to work with the United States to move the relationship forward along a track of “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”

The word “cooperation” appeared 24 times in his speech. He suggested that U.S. firms could gain from an estimated 22 trillion dollars worth of exports to China in the coming decade.

“Despite the transition to a new administration in the US, continuity rather than change in this troubled relationship prevails.”

Yang’s message to the US was consistent with a view in Beijing that the US’s erratic policies were being driven by deepening fissures in American society, rather than its own policies.

Chinese diplomats in recent weeks have repeatedly dismissed Trump’s actions as “madness,” laying the blame for the deterioration in ties at Washington’s feet.

“Yang’s message is very clear. After four years of turmoil under Trump, it’s time for both sides to take a moment and reflect,” said Zhu Feng, professor of international relations at Nanjing University.

“The madness of Trump’s China policy – ripe with hate – has turned out to be a failure. The US should reflect upon such damages on the bilateral ties.”

Both sides do appear interested in lowering the temperature from the Twitter-fuelled policy shocks of recent years. While Yang called on the US to stop labelling China as “strategic competitor,” Blinken played down the risk of a clash between the two nuclear-armed powers, said Straitstimes.

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China’s vice-minister of foreign affairs, Le Yucheng, said that Washington must take immediate action to repair its relations with Beijing. Illustration: Shutterstock on the SCMP.

Yang highlighted opportunities for cooperation on issues such as climate change, pandemic relief and macro economic policies. His comments about easing visa pressure on Chinese students and media pointed to one possible area of compromise. Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said last month that the US could reverse such actions to build confidence with China.

The speech included a symbolic nod to the decades-long project to maintain ties between the US and China. The National Committee on US-China Relations played a role in the “ping-pong diplomacy” that helped start talks between the Cold War rivals in the 1970s.

“It would be a mistake to think that a return to more familiar interlocutors means that issues of great concerns will recede,” the committee’s chairman, former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, said while introducing Yang.

The Biden administration’s vow to better defend liberal values such as human rights and democracy is one such great concern. In recent days, US officials have reaffirmed support for democracy advocates in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the SCMP.

“These are the issues that US will definitely touch,” Shi Yinhong, director of Renmin University’s Centre on American Studies in Beijing. “The confrontation over these issues will continue.”

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