Due to the pandemic, the 5th Taihe Civilizations Forum International Relations Sub-forum Sino-U.S. Relations Seminar was held online on September 7th, 2021. Dozens of domestic and foreign guests participated in comprehensive and meaningful discussions around the theme of “Changes, trends, and future development trends in Sino-U.S. relations after the Biden administration came to power.” Based on the order of the speeches, the main opinions of guests at home and abroad are summarized and compiled as follows for the benefit of readers.
Mr. Cui Liru, Former President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, suggested that the predicament of the Biden administration with respect to its China policy is directly related to the internal affairs of the United States. However, the fundamental basis of the United States’ strategic competition with China is contrary to the general trend in the development of international relations.
The principle of America’s strategic competition with China is to maintain its dominant position and strategic advantage. This is the common goal of the administrations of Trump and Biden in their China strategies. The Biden administration tried to show that its China policy was more structured than that of the previous administration, and proposed the so-called three-C strategy, namely, competition, cooperation and confrontation. However, judging from developments in the past seven months, it follows no clear pattern. With curbing China’s competitiveness as its core agenda, America’s China Policy is confrontational competition.
Predictably, as long as decision-makers in Washington hold on to mainstream views about the evolution of international relations and China’s peaceful rise, and the Biden administration remains to be constrained by the upcoming elections in 2022 and 2024, the US China policy will be fraught with challenges. The prevailing state of Sino-U.S. relations will be the norm in the coming years.
Mr. Wu Hailong, President of China Public Diplomacy Association, said that the current state of Sino-U.S. relations can be attributed to America’s flawed judgment about China. The United States believes that China is a “strategic competitor” and a “potential enemy,” that China wants to replace the United States, that China wants to change the current international order, and China does not act according to international rules, but takes advantage of the U.S., and China violates human rights, among others. None of these arguments or judgments hold or make any sense.
The U.S. should change its attitude toward China if two want to improve their bilateral relations and avoid conflict and confrontation. The U.S. should readjust its China policy by adopting an objective and practical attitude toward China’s development and policy of engagement with the U.S., and re-evaluate Sino-U.S. relations and the interests of both countries.
The recovery of Sino-U.S. relations may take some time, but as long as both sides respect each other with sincerity, consider the long-term interests of bilateral ties and the rest of the world, and make reasonable judgments about each other, then there is still hope for Sino-U.S. relations to get back on track.
Ms. Susan Thornton, Senior Fellow at Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, said that while the global economic system has led to great development and prosperity in the past few decades, it has not truly realized equity. Many people around the world have lost confidence in economic development and prosperity. And this is why the world is facing so many changes. In other words, if we still focus on competition or ideological differences among different countries, it will be help for solving global challenges. President Xi Jinping proposed the concept of “major changes unseen in a century.” This reinforces the important message that human society is facing various changes. If we limit ourselves to political games among great powers, then we will be caught unprepared to meet the challenges in the 21st Century, when China and the U.S. are expected to contribute to solving global issues.
At present, China and the United States should strive to arrange a meeting between its leaders. This will help ease tensions and promote cooperation between the two countries. China and the United States should strengthen cooperation in response to the epidemic and climate change, and strive to avoid possible negative spillover effects caused by technological competition. It is believed that the leaders of China and the United States can make the responsible choices with respect to the issues of bilateral relations and global cooperation.
Mr. Guo Changlin, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, said that fierce competition is a prominent feature of Sino-U.S. relations in the new era, which is associated with great uncertainties, particularly in the following aspects: First, China and the United States are not “going in the same direction” in terms of policies. Second, the 3-C strategies in the Biden administration’s China Policy also bring uncertainty to the development of Sino-U.S. relations. Recently, during Biden’s visit to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, he pointed out that it is necessary to maintain an advantage over China while avoiding unnecessary escalation in Sino-U.S. relations. This shows a lack of confidence about the outcomes of the 3-C strategies. Third, the U.S. domestic political situation also leads to uncertainty with respect to the development of Sino-U.S. relations.
The U.S. policy toward China is expected to be more hardline, which signals a slippery slope for Sino-U.S. relations. How would Sino-US relations evolve? I suggest that China should not set high expectations. However, there is still hope for improvement, which can be achieved through people-to-people ties, economic and trade relations, and exchanges among experts and scholars who bridge Sino-U.S. relations. This hope is a form of strength. So let us rebuild the bridge that connects China and the United States.
Mr. Wang Wen, Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and Vice President of Silk Road School at Renmin University of China, said that although the U.S. considers China as a threat, it has not yet accepted China’s rise. The United States views China as its primary competitor, but China and the U.S. have different understandings of the term “competition.”
So, what kind of competition does China and the United States need? China and the United States should not compete mainly through military means as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Competition needs to be conducted in a more civilized and progressive manner. China and the United States should compete to solve the world’s development dilemma, to cope with global climate change, and to promote worldwide technological innovation. In short, China and the United States should compete to make the world a better place.
In the past, many Chinese admired the United States, mainly because they believed that the United States had solved many of the world’s problems. Why did the United States now stoop to such level? The main reason is that the United States has not only failed to solve the world’s problems, but has even failed to solve its internal problems. What made Chinese people increase their faith in China? It is the realization that China has not only addressed many of its own problems, but also many of the world’s problems. And this is what Sino-U.S. competition should really aim for.
Mr. Li Cheng, Director of the John L. Thornton China Center and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings Institution, believes that the middle class in the United States and China should become a driving force in the development of relations between the two countries. The middle class is a social group valued by the top leaders of both China and the United States. Solving the problem of the decline of the middle class has been at the core of the Biden administration’s domestic policies. For China, eliminating poverty and expanding the middle class are also important goals in the national development strategy. Although the Chinese and American middle classes have different historical and cultural backgrounds, they share many common characteristics.
The middle class is a potential stabilizing force in Sino-U.S. relations. People-to-people exchanges can help enhance mutual understanding between the middle-class groups in China and in the U.S. They can help avoid mutual “demonization” and misunderstanding, enhance empathy, and encourage both countries to abandon the zero-sum mindset and respect each other’s ambitions and interests.
Mr. Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group, said that from the perspectives of politics, economy, and military affairs, the world is becoming more polarized. Despite heightened tensions between China and the United States, a war between the two countries remains unlikely because of the bipolar world structure and the presence of nuclear weapons. China and the U.S. will try to deal with the competition by strengthening their military forces, economic growth, and other internal factors.
The national strength of China and the United States far exceeds that of the others in the world. Actions toward achieving “external balance” such as forming alliances are not as transparent, reliable, and predictable as the steps taken to ensure “internal balance.” Bi-polarity is more stable than multi-polarity. China and the U.S. can focus on each other, rather than on other third-party countries.
Mr. Zhou Bo, Senior Fellow at Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, and Former Director of the Centre for Security Cooperation in the Office for International Military Cooperation of Ministry of National Defense, said that the dialogue between the Chinese and the American navy forces was beneficial. However, the outcome was not significant. The U.S. hoped to conduct technical discussions on how to avoid close and dangerous contact between ships and aircraft, while China believed that the U.S. Navy’s high-intensity, large-scale reconnaissance and surveillance activities in China’s waters were provocations and should be prohibited or reduced. In October 2020, the Defense Department of China and the U.S. discussed the issue of crisis management through a video conference, which is worthy of recognition. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Chinese and American navies held joint maritime trainings. Such engagements should continue in the future.
Mr. Stephen Orlins, President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, said that many of the problems that lead to conflict between China and the U.S. cannot be easily solved, not to mention the sensitive political issues facing the two countries. Only by taking incremental, specific, realistic, and sometimes unilateral measures can the two re-establish trust. In this regard, China and the U.S. can implement five relatively easy measures: first, to restart scientific cooperation in the areas of epidemic prevention and climate change; second, to negotiate the conditions for reopening the consulates in Chengdu and Houston; third, to reach an immediate agreement on tariff reduction; fourth, negotiate the definition of “national security” to avoid harming bilateral trade and investment; and fifth, to hold high-level meetings and promote the Sino-U.S. Leaders’ Summit.
Mr. Wang Xiangsui, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies of Beihang University, said that both China and the U.S. now recognize that they are in a competitive relationship, but neither acknowledges nor believes that this kind of competition aims to completely eliminate the other side. The concept of “competing while co-existing” is the basis for healthy competition between China and the U.S. To this end, both countries should follow four principles, namely, avoiding treating each other as enemies, acknowledging each other’s values and interests as legitimate, competing in a constructive way, and observing the non-violence policy. It is clear that China and the U.S. do not trust the other side. Besides, the U.S. congress has passed new legislation on China, which has restricted the U.S. from maintaining a healthy competition with China.
Ms. Elizabeth Rowland, U.S.-China Trade and Investment Policy Analyst, Founder of TN-China Network, said that the people-to-people exchanges between China and the U.S. would be vital to the development of bilateral ties. The U.S. should keep an open mind instead of blocking the exchanges.
Mr. Guo Xinning, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, Professor at School of Public Policy and Management, and Senior Director of International Program at Tsinghua University, said that it is the intervention of the United States that has resulted in and escalated tensions in the South China Sea region. If the U.S. truly wants to stabilize the situation in the region, it should take more practical and constructive measures to deal with regional issues and leave countries in the region to deal with their respective bilateral or multilateral relations.
Venerable Huigu, Fellow of Taihe Institute, Malaysian Buddhist, and Student of Venerable Master Hsing Yun from Fo Guang Shan, said that in seeking to understand whether China represents a threat to the U.S., Washington only focuses on China’s national strength, but not on its ambition or intention. Therefore, the U.S. is not likely to change its containment policy against China, despite the fact that China has repeatedly expressed that it has no intention of replacing America to become the world leader.
H.E. Fariz Mehdawi, Ambassador of Palestine to China, stated that people from the Middle East, Africa, and other regions hope that the world will maintain peace and stability, and he looks forward to Sino-U.S. cooperation on international affairs. The South China Sea issue is a matter of China’s sovereignty and national security. China’s goal is to ensure and maintain peace in the region, therefore, non-intervention from other countries is expected. The same is Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues which are China’s internal affairs. The U.S. is re-evaluate its policies in these issues.
Mr. Ding Yifan, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and former Vice-Director of World Development Institute of Development Research Center of the State Council, noted that the U.S. politicians worry about the U.S. being surpassed by China. But what China cares about is improving the living standards of the Chinese people. It is inevitable the China’s GDP will eventually exceed that of the U.S. due to China’s large population. However, the U.S. refuses to recognize this and is determined to contain China’s development. For example, the U.S. has encouraged technological decoupling with China, and prevented Chinese scientific researchers and students from studying in the U.S. But this cannot restrain China from its development goals. Decoupling is likely to harm the interests of the U.S. Its policy-making is under the sway of various interest groups, who seem to want a real war between the U.S. and China because that’s what they believe will benefit them. These interest groups see China as a “scarecrow” that is there frightening the U.S., playing of one against another. Therefore, both China and the US citizens who want to see promising Sino-U.S. relations should be aware of that.
Mr. Lou Xiaoqi, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Civilization Magazine, Founder and Executive President of the Capital Civilizational Development Foundation, said that technologies have diminished the cultural boundaries that used to set the two countries apart. The pursuit of a better world is a universal goal. Faced with challenges such as the pandemic and climate change, people from different cultures and societies should focus on shared values and development goals to encourage civilized discourse.
Mr. Wang Zaibang, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, stated that Biden’s China team is not irrational. Yet, in the short term, Washington may be unable to adjust its China policy under the Trump administration due to bipartisan disputes. However, the Biden administration has made positive changes on a limited range of issues, which may be a sign that things will eventually get back on track. In fact, the Biden administration has already shown signs of reflection concerning its China policy.
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