Early in the Biden administration, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed that the United States would only hold talks with China if they led to “tangible outcome” to resolve disputes between the strategic rivals.
Tow-and-a-half years later, that approach appears to have changed.
Since the start of the summer, the administration has embarked on a largely unreciprocated push to talk with Beijing, establishing working groups and sending three cabinet-level officials and its top climate envoy to Beijing.
The strategy, intended in part to salvage a relationship that fell to a dangerous level this year when the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon, could lead to a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, their first in a year.
But critics say the approach carries its own risk: that the talks and working groups will only pull focus away from – and possibly delay – sanctions, export controls and competition, according to Reuters.
China is a daunting diplomatic challenge for the United States. The Biden administration wants to counter the country’s growing military without provoking a conflict and to push back on what it considers unfair business practices while avoiding an all-out trade war.
Officials say they are imposing tough measures when necessary while reiterating that the US is open for dialogue to keep relations stable.
They point to the high-tech sector, where the US has imposed sweeping restrictions on the export of semiconductors and bans on US investment in certain Chinese tech companies while offering new incentives for companies to expand instead in the United States.
“The criticism we get from some on (Capitol) Hill and some in the academic community, of course, is that competing means you can’t talk to China,” said the administration official.
“That is a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy. The hard, difficult conversations are always with competitors.”
Those conversations, said the official, include explaining concerns that US technology is being used to improve the capabilities of China’s military, the Reuters report adds.
When successful, such dialogue can also ease tensions.
One possible sign of a thaw is China’s recent assistance with the return of Travis King, a US soldier detained in North Korea and transferred back home through Chinese territory.
One area where even some of Biden’s detractors would acknowledge US success has been courting allies and partners, including summits with Southeast Asian countries and Pacific island leaders, a trilateral effort to bridge differences between Japan and South Korea, and the landmark AUKUS defence pact with the United Kingdom and Australia.
Jacob Stokes, senior fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security, said the administration’s China policy had been a success.
Nonetheless, the rush of visits by US officials to China – intended in part to queue up a meeting between Biden and Xi at November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit in San Francisco – doesn’t sit well with some critics and Republicans in Congress, who see stricter reciprocity as a wiser starting point.
A year of US “diplomatic accommodation” has yielded no action to address market access for US companies in China, theft of US intellectual property, or Beijing’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea, said Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, who has run the House of Representative’s select committee on China’s Communist Party (CCP), often in close cooperation with Democratic lawmakers.
Administration officials acknowledge China may see the US push to engage as a chance to weaken or slow Washington’s policies targeting China, particularly on exports in strategic industries such as semiconductors, but deny that this is happening.
They point to new fentanyl-related sanctions on China this week as evidence Beijing is not getting a pass.
An administration official denied the delays were to avoid upsetting China but were about “getting the technical pieces right, and balancing economic impact on our own domestic competitiveness.”
Source : Gulf Today