The leaders of the United States and China finally held their first face-to-face meeting after the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022. This long-awaited meeting took place at the occasion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State proposed the "3C policy (compete, collaborate, confront)" towards China in March 2021. He mentioned "to compete when it should be, collaborate when it can be and confront when it must be." The United States also brought up the concept of a "security fence" to prevent confrontation from escalating to conflict.
It has seen ups and downs in U.S.-China relations in the past year. There has been barely cooperation but competition, almost reaching what foreign media described as “the lowest point since the 70s of last century.” The mutual hostility of the officials has led to mutual enmity of the civilians of both sides. According to opinion polls, there is a significant decline in mutual favorability. The U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship globally. Tensions in this relationship are not in the interest of either side or of the international community. Therefore, the Biden-Xi meeting was highly expected to stabilize the sour relationship between the two countries and to set things right for the international order.
The Biden-Xi meeting discussed a wide range of issues globally and bilaterally. For the global issues concerning traditional security such as the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, Russia-Ukraine war and Israel-Palestine conflicts, the leaders of China and US reached a consensus to set aside disputes and manage differences because these issues cannot be possibly solved in a short time. For the unconventional global security issues like climate change, energy crisis, and trade and economic relations, both sides seek to expand cooperation based on the principles of mutual benefits and win-win.
Constructive progress has made in the bilateral level. The high-level military contacts will resume to prevent possible conflicts because of misjudgments. The contacts of all walks of society and culture and education exchanges will be expanded to build more trusts of both sides.
Cooperation will develop on artificial intelligent and cracking down potent synthetic opioids like Fentanyl. History has shown that the head of state diplomacy of China and the US could be crucial at critical moment, but I don’t think the Biden-Xi meeting of this time could advance the relationship of both countries from “easing tension” to “improvement.” It is because the fundamental situation of the strategic competition between both sides has not changed.
President Biden assessed that the competition between the US and China is “a contest of democracy and dictatorship in the 21st century.” And the structural contradiction between both sides will further emerge due to their power competition. For instance, Professor Rober Sutter of international relations of George Washington University said to BBC Chinese, to maintain its position as world leader, “the actions taken by the US government are increasingly dealing with the tough challenges posed by China in economics, security, and governance” and he believed that “the challenges have persisted for a long time.” This reflects the “Washington Consensus” reached in the US political circle in recent years.
For China, it means “a struggle between containment and counter-containment.” China’s counter measure is to provide the mode of “China’s rise” to help the developing countries stand up in the world, fighting together against repressions from the West. And this is referred as the "Beijing Consensus.” In short, regarding the future direction of the China-US relations after Biden-Xi meeting, I would agree the views of Profess Wang Jisi of the School of International Studies of Peking University, it would be “cautious but not optimistic.”
(Chao Chun-Shan, Honorary Profess, Tamkang University)
(Translated to English by Tracy Chou)