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Intense competition between China and US to continue along with massive trade and investment

22:25 | 04.12.2021 | Analytic

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Penza, 4 December 2021. PenzaNews. The meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping that took place in video format in mid-November, was the first since the inauguration of the American head of state in January 2021. Prior to this, the two leaders exchanged messages and phone calls.

Intense competition between China and US to continue along with massive trade and investment

Photo: CGTN

Joe Biden and his team gathered in the White House conference room (Roosevelt Room) when it was Monday evening, November 15 in Washington. Xi Jinping was in one of the rooms of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing – it was already Tuesday morning in the capital of China.

In total, the negotiations lasted about three hours and a half.

During the open part of the meeting, Joe Biden said that the leaders’ task is to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict and expressed the hope for a convergence of positions on issues of “honest competition” and “common-sense guardrails.” Xi Jinping, in turn, stressed that humanity is facing many problems, so “the United States and China need to increase communication and cooperation.”

“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that our competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, just simple, straightforward competition,” Joe Biden said and explained that they could work together where interests intersect, on such issues like climate change.

Xi Jinping expressed his readiness to work with President Joe Biden to build consensus and take active steps to move China-US relations forward in a positive direction.

According to information posted on the White House website, during the negotiations, Joe Biden raised concerns “about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly,” expressed the need to protect American workers and industries from the PRC’s unfair trade and economic practices, and stressed the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific. On Taiwan, the US President underscored that the United States remains committed to the “one China” policy and strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. In addition, it follows from the text that the leaders discussed key regional problems, “including the DPRK, Afghanistan and Iran.”

According to the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, “the two sides exchanged views on Afghanistan, the Iranian issue, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and other international and regional issues of mutual interest.” No other details are provided.

“The two Presidents agreed that their meeting is candid, constructive, substantive and productive. It helps increase mutual understanding, adds to the positive expectation of the international community for this relationship, and sends a powerful message to the two countries and the world,” says the document published on the website of the ministry.

It also adds that the two sides agreed to maintain close communication in different forms and steer relations back on the right track of sound and steady development.

Analyzing the results of the past negotiations, Lak Chansok, Lecturer and Research Fellow, Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) in Cambodia, Expert at Democracy Promotion Center, Ritsumeikan Center for Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan APU in Japan, said that the two leaders have remained firm to defense their positions although they have acknowledged that the great power rivalry has had the adverse impact on the global stability.

“Despite no substantial outcomes, this first US-China virtual meeting has laid the groundwork for two leaders to re-establish the high-level communications to frankly discuss important issues, gradually build strategic trust, and maintain the global peace,” the expert said.

He reminded that the rapid rise of China amidst the relatively declining US power has been perceived by the American leaders as “the greatest threats to the US security and the existing liberal international order.”

“In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jiping made it clear that China would continue to pursue all-encompassing development. [...] Externally, Xi has revived the Silk Roads, promoted the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and increasingly engaged in regional and global organizations. China’s military modernization with an ambition to be the ‘world class army’ by 2049, its rising strategic cooperation with Moscow and its growing military presence in the South China Sea and in a wider Indo-Pacific have been viewed by the US and its stalwart allies and partners as challenges to the regional and global stability,” Lak Chansok said and added that the Trump administration started trade war with Beijing, increasing the US military engagement in the South China Sea.

From his point of view, the two countries’ relations have deteriorated because of the ongoing US politicization of some issues, including the COVID-19 origin and human rights issues.

“The US-China relations will remain competitive in years to come. […] The US under the current administration has made a comeback with its strong position to promote the US liberal order that have strategically put China’s interests in jeopardy,” the analyst said.

Meanwhile, Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus at Princeton University, who served the Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, believes that the US–China relationship is currently extreme competition with the potential for military conflict.

“The most important result was to make clear that both sides want to avoid war and recognize that the situation has gotten bad enough to be dangerous. There appear to be few concrete results but […] there will be strategic stability talks similar to those with Russia, hopefully setting the stage for some self-restraint on both sides and eventually some nuclear arms control agreements,” the expert noted.

At the same time he suggested that there won’t be any reboot in the foreseeable future.

“Both sides see this a struggle for dominance in the global system, i.e. China trying to overthrow the US as the leader in setting the rules. Competition and reducing mutual vulnerabilities will be the main focus. I hope, however, there can be cooperation on climate protection and on reducing the risks of military and, especially, nuclear, conflict. This is somewhat like the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union but with much more mutual economic dependence,” Frank von Hippel said and added that both sides will try to reduce interdependence.

“I think it […] should be a stabilizing force. Hopefully also, so should the millions of Chinese students – children of the elite – who have studied in the US and Europe. The resulting mutual knowledge should reduce the dangerous demonization of the other to the degree that happened between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War,” he explained.

Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution and an author of several publications for the National Interest magazine, expressed the view that tense relationships between the US and China in general are stable at the moment.

“Both sides are aware of the stakes. The main task of the two countries is to restore a common understanding, as much as possible, on the Taiwan issue. That is the main thing that could lead to war, which we must all seek to prevent as much as possible,” Michael O’Hanlon said.

According to him, there will be no reboot in relations between the two countries.

“We are in the new normal now. That will continue until china has effectively stabilized its position as another superpower, and until the Taiwan issue has somehow been resolved, if possible,” the expert stressed.

In turn, Douglas Paal, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that he is not optimistic for strategic stability.

“I don’t believe the US team yet understands what that would constitute. For the moment, however, we are experiencing some efforts to find stability. […] Biden sent a message of reduced hostility toward China in areas that might precipitate unwanted conflict. Xi noted Biden’s assurances on Taiwan, while issuing a warning that suggested Xi does not fully trust Biden’s assurances. The two agreed on what appear to be different notions of how to commence a dialogue on strategic stability,” the analyst said.

In his opinion, it is difficult to draw unambiguous conclusions about the development of the situation.

Douglas Paal drew attention to the events that took place before the meeting of the two leaders. In particular, he mentioned that prior to it there were new Chinese contracts for American natural gas and potential agreement for Boeing aircraft; it also became known that an agreement has been reached between the United States and China on media visa issuance.

“If these steps are followed by other concrete achievements, over time they may reduce tensions slightly. But there are upcoming events and US legislation that may actually increase tensions as well,” the expert noted.

Meanwhile, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at East-West Center, expert on Northeast Asian international security issues, reminded that the US–China relations have for decades followed a cycle of highs and lows, but the situation today is fundamentally different.

“Until recently there was a large gap in the relative power and influence between the two countries. The US government had a relatively relaxed attitude toward US–China competition because the possibility of China being a serious economic and military threat to the US was far distant. US policy-makers could indulge in the hope that China would become more liberal […] and globally cooperative as it became wealthier. That cushion, however, is now gone. China has closed the power gap enough that it can do significant harm to US military and economic interests, and China’s intentions appear unfriendly. Therefore US–China relations are locked into a state of high tensions for the foreseeable future. Deep and lasting rapprochement is no longer possible,” Denny Roy said.

In his opinion, the Xi–Biden virtual summit was constructive as an expression of the desire of both governments to reduce bilateral tensions; however, both sides restated their support for the positions that bring them into conflict.

“For example, China as usual called on the US to respect China’s sovereignty and political system, which is code for demanding that the US stop supporting Taiwan and stop criticizing China over human rights. […] Intense economic and security competition will continue, with partial decoupling and a slow arms race proceeding alongside US–China trade and investment, which remains massive,” the analyst concluded.

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