Diplomacy with Chinese specificity



After the official announcement of the upcoming China-U.S. leaders’ summit in China, information preparations for this significant event began.

On October 31, the leading Chinese publication, the party newspaper Rénmín Rìbào published an article entitled «Promoting Real Stability and Improving China-U.S. Relations». It refers to steps to ease tensions between the two countries following last year’s meeting between the Chinese and US presidents at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

«Recently, China and the US have held a series of important high-level exchanges, opened a new chapter in the development of friendship, and there have been some positive signs in the relations», the paper said.

Recognizing that much in the world depends on the relations between the two countries, the Party organ once again points out the basic principles without which «détente» is impossible: «the one-China principle and the three joint communiqués are the most important political foundations of relations between the two countries». And also: «The two sides should adhere to the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation».

The article also contains the traditional invitation not to conflict, to stop «containing China». «Some in the US are adhering to the Cold War mentality, containing and suppressing China. Such an approach will only push China and the US into confrontation, and the world into a new Cold War, division and turmoil. China and the US are two countries of such a large size, with different histories, cultures and social systems, which makes it difficult to avoid some differences and competition, but this does not prevent the two sides from cooperating on the basis of common interests, and this should not be the cause of confrontation between China and the US».

At the same time, it is emphasized that there are many problems that cannot be solved without cooperation between the PRC and the U.S.: the recovery of the global economy, the fight against climate change, the settlement of regional conflicts, including the Middle East and inter-Korean conflicts. After all, it is clear that if the United States wants to solve them, it cannot avoid China.

The article on the one hand sends principled signals to official Washington, and on the other hand explains Beijing’s readiness to move from tough confrontation to cooperation, hinting that the opposing side has accepted the Chinese terms of the game.

Indeed, if we look back, we can see that Trump’s trade war and especially the visit of US parliamentarians to Taiwan were followed by a sharp deterioration in relations. Beijing kept its American partners «in the anteroom» for quite a long time, refusing diplomatic contacts at a high level. Contacts were also frozen at low levels, for example, in the military sphere.

It must be assumed that Washington has perceived all this adequately, and now there are counter steps from the Chinese side. Earlier, additional mechanisms of interaction were established: in the field of financial structures, agriculture and others. Then followed an exchange of visits of key official and unofficial persons, including major American businessmen.

And now official Beijing is demonstrating its readiness to resume full-scale cooperation. China has even resumed consultations on strategic stability, i.e., nuclear arms limitation, although this does not indicate that the Chinese are ready to enter into any agreements in this area. One can even cautiously assume that the removal of two key figures, Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who demonstrated an anti-American stance, has something in common with this. It is very un-Chinese style to suddenly remove top leaders immediately after their appointment and approval by the legislature. Perhaps other people should implement the new policy?

It is also important that both sides seem to have come to realize the harmfulness of the aggravation of relations. Beijing realized this from the beginning, urging Washington not to cross red lines, not to go to conflict, while at the same time being tough on matters of principle. Washington, convinced that restraining China would lead nowhere, also decided, as they call it, to loosen its grip.

A week ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of greetings to the Fifth China-U.S. Sister Cities Conference. In the message, the Chinese leader noted that the close cooperation between friendly provinces and states, as well as sister cities of China and the United States over the past 40-plus years has achieved fruitful results that have brought real benefits to the peoples of the two countries.

This gesture in itself means a lot and, along with a number of steps and actions, indicates a change in American policy. A kind of withdrawal from the line of direct confrontation in the style of oriental martial arts. One of the steps in this vein is the pompous reception in Beijing of Biden’s potential successor in the White House — California Governor Newsom.

At the same time, it should be recognized that Xi Jinping is far less bound by the domestic restrictions that the U.S. administration has. He does not have to be re-elected in 2024, he is not under pressure from political opponents. His room for maneuver is much wider than that of President Biden, who could easily be accused of being too soft on China. On the other hand, a large part of the U.S. business community is against the breakup of close relations with China, which would lose a lot of benefits. In fact, we are talking about the confrontation between a significant part of the US economy and the military-industrial complex. Oil producers vs. gun manufacturers.

So, the China-US summit is likely to be quite successful and mark some period of reset in relations.

But this is all tactics. Strategically, the two major powers will still remain in a state of confrontation. The question is to keep it within the rules.