On July 25-26, US First Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman paid a visit to China, where she met and held talks with Chinese officials in the city of Tianjin, including member of the State Council and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. According to Sherman, Washington would like to establish a safety fence along the path of bilateral relations to avoid collisions. Face-offs, apparently. Moreover, CNN recently reported a putative US offer to create a "hotline" for emergency communication at the highest level with China, similar to the Cold War era Moscow-Washington "red phone" which allowed direct contacts between the White House and the Kremlin.
The United States claims that Ms. Sherman's visit should become a preface to US President Joe Biden's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meeting may take place amid Washington's statements branding China as its chief potential adversary. For instance, CIA Director William Burns said in a recent interview with US National Public Radio that China represented a major 21st century "geopolitical challenge" to his country. The same opinion is shared by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Besides, the American leader recently said at a briefing that the existing atmosphere forces the White House to conduct sort of a "might-is-right" dialogue with China.
Beijing's response to Biden's statement was not long in coming. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that once the United States has never learned to put on an equal footing, they will have to be taught a lesson. "The US has always put pressure on others with its self-claimed strengths in a condescending manner. China will never accept this," the top-ranking Chinese diplomat said. As a confirmation of this and under its law on countering foreign sanctions, Beijing imposed its own restrictions on six Americans, including former Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. In other words, the PRC reacts to Washington's performance on the tit-for-tat principle.
Beijing demonstrated its unwillingness to tolerate sharp power at the March 2021 US-Chinese talks in Anchorage, Alaska. Back then, member of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office Yang Jiechi provided a harsh response to attacks by US Assistant to the President for National Security Jake Sullivan regarding human rights in the PRC. He said the United States had no right to yaw-yaw with China, it's just not going to work.
A similar statement, albeit in a milder form, was now heard by Ms. Sherman at the talks in Tianjin from Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, who urged the United States to stop the "extremely dangerous" reactive policy towards China. According to the diplomat, official Washington doesn’t have the luxury to mentor Beijing regarding democracy and human rights, the Xinhua news agency reported. The Deputy Minister called on the US leadership to primarily solve their own issues in this sphere. He also noted that in historical terms, the United States implemented genocide upon America's indigenous population. And today, 620 thousand Americans died due to the US authorities' "slow" reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, Xie Feng stressed that the ongoing military actions of the United States and the wars provoked under the flag of lies have induced severe disasters worldwide.
Later, during his talks with Sherman, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Washington against any further interference in the affairs of Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), noting that the Chinese authorities won't tolerate attempts to jeopardize the national interests of the People's Republic of China under a specious excuse. "The United States must not infringe upon China’s national sovereignty, let alone undermine China’s territorial integrity. Xinjiang-related, Tibet-related, and Hong Kong-related issues have never been human rights or democracy issues," the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Wang Yi as saying.
Nevertheless, despite the complexity of his country's current relations with China, Joe Biden believes that only a personal meeting may scale back mutual distrust and help clarify issues where common ground is possible at all. In this regard, choosing Sherman for overture has not been accidental: she is more of a "dove" than a "hawk" on the Chinese issue, which should help establish contacts between Washington and Beijing. Experts say the meeting between leaders of China and the United States may either have a bilateral format or take place "on the sidelines" of the G20 summit in Rome scheduled for late October this year.
The same CNN channel claims that the possible Biden-Xi summit will feature higher stakes than the recent Geneva one between the US President and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. With the latter, Biden has resolutely outlined his course concerning human rights and cyberspace war. That's it. And the dispute with China concerns a much broader sphere. Trade, the Chinese military buildup, possible aggression against Taiwan, accusations against Beijing of the genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang – all of this has nearly brought the two powerful players to the brink of war. From Biden's point of view, Russia is a minor threat to the stability of the United States, while China's challenge is an existential one. This refers to the struggle between democracy and autocratic power.
However, Ms. Sherman's visit to China does not imply that the US-China summit is approaching. First, it is not necessarily the case that the G20 summit in Rome will be held in person, because the coronavirus may once again precondition its video conference format. Secondly, the parties still cannot find the agenda of the summit. As you know, such meetings require elaborate and sustained preparations. Yes, perhaps the summit could feature climate and combating cybercrime. But the old informal agreement, when the United States did respect Chinese practices and Beijing made no attempts to dismantle the Washington-led world order, is no longer being observed. Partly because of US ex-President Donald Trump, who was the one to start vigorously egging on the PRC.
Well, be that as it may, mending fences is mind-bogglingly complicated. Besides, China recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic much more self-confident than the United States, so if the US-China summit does take place in the long run, it will be a meeting to raise the issues, while solving them will be difficult indeed.