Mainland China Chairman Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the U.S. is already underway. At his first stop — Seattle — he quickly assembled a trade and economic exchange, led major entrepreneurs such as Pony Ma, Jack Ma and Yang Yuanqing, held a roundtable meeting with American business leaders, and met with the governor of Washington and the mayor of Seattle. He also attended the China-U.S. Governors Forum, toured companies like Boeing and Microsoft and ordered 300 aircraft from Boeing.
Compared to his visits in 2012 and 2013, this one is the most unpredictable, sensitive and complex. Right before Xi’s visit, U.S. anxiety about China was growing nonstop. China watchman David Lampton even states that U.S.-China relations have reached a “tipping point.” Lampton has evidence: since 2015, the American anti-China policy debate has clearly leaned toward restraint and resistance, and the American people’s hatred of China has grown, too.
The South China Sea is not directly tied to the “tipping point,” but Beijing think tanks have reached three different conclusions about the imbalanced U.S.-China relations:
– There have been no qualitative changes whatsoever in U.S.-China relations.
– Although there have been no qualitative changes, there may have been partial changes and signs of imbalance.
– The changes are not qualitative, only psychological.
Some Beijing think tanks are a little hesitant, but nobody would break the balance or place retaliative restrictions on the U.S. We can judge from the positive actions of officials that Xi Jinping hopes that U.S.-China relations can return from a dangerous imbalance to normal cooperation.
Just as Lampton said, Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.S. is probably not at the best time, but it is the most important visit. Both Washington and Beijing know that now is not the best time for U.S.-China relations, and precisely because of this, Xi’s visit has all the more meaning and value.
First of all, we must understand the driving forces behind U.S.-China relations. More than 30 years ago, China and the U.S. experienced friction and conflict, but their driving forces were contact and cooperation, which is why the countries were able to prosper together economically. Changes to America’s anti-China strategy suggest these driving forces are very dangerous for both China and America. Ever since the Crimea issue, U.S.-Russia relations have become unbalanced, and Beijing and Moscow appear to be closer, which worries America. In the Asia-Pacific region, China has begun to promote the Asian Investment Bank and its “One Belt, One Road” strategy to pressure the U.S. into reverting to an Asia-Pacific strategy. This time, if the U.S. uses clear strategies to restrain China, Beijing is bound to retaliate, creating isolation and opposition. Washington should know that the result of its anti-China strategy is far more important than the strategy itself.
Another reason for Xi’s visit is to reconcile strategic differences. China is in the middle of a deep transformation, and its decision-making is bound to change, too; but, the extent to which Washington is aware of these changes will directly influence the way in which it interacts with China. At this time, Beijing must take a positive stance and be ready to set a good example in the face of trends capable of further separating the two countries. We can see that the countries’ understandings of each other are too meager for developing proper relations and also too low for the rate of China’s economic and societal transition. Multi-staged strategies are very necessary to clear up strategic suspicions.
A very important reason for Xi’s visit is to clearly explain to the U.S. China’s real train of thought. Xi dedicated a large portion of his evening speech in Seattle to American concerns, listing seven major policy orientations. He stated that “China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion,” and that he has reached an agreement with Obama on new major-country relations. The biggest takeaways of the speech were to properly judge each other’s strategic procedures, manage discrimination and cultivate friendship.
Obama has reason to learn from the Yingtai Night Talk, a private party with Xi, which was also arranged to promote trust and understanding. Xi Jinping will open dialogue with U.S. think tanks and nongovernmental groups to introduce China’s determination for reform and advocacy for cooperation. From what is known, Xi Jinping will also visit Muscatine, Iowa to participate in an array of people-oriented activities, which may bring up warm images of U.S.-China relations in the past.
Moreover, we must dig deep for economic energy. It has been more than 30 years since China’s economic reform, and China and the U.S. have formed a relatively mature and interdependent industrial layout. The tightly secured economy would not allow political friction to push it backward. Chinese diplomat Wang Yi claims that in 2022, China and the U.S. hope to become each other’s largest trade partners. The large economic and trade group accompanying Xi Jinping on his visit will engage in every kind of forum and dialogue with American business communities to deepen communication and create more opportunities for cooperation. Xi also agreed to increase U.S.-China economic cooperation and to call upon cooperation among every state, province and city in China and the U.S. The Bilateral Investment Treaty also has potential to be a breakthrough.
Hoping that one visit will lead the entire way from a “tipping point” to better relations is not too realistic. The long-term, stable development of relations between the two countries still requires political, economic and cultural energy. What is certain, however, is that since 1972, when U.S.-China relations were normalized, Chinese diplomats always could immediately detect and address conflict and friction. This “tipping point” can be thought of as a warning that it’s time to get back on track.
Following the stabilization of China’s economic status and the development of Asia-Pacific pluralism, China and the U.S. will still encounter the danger of sliding back into the “tipping point” from time to time. Without proper control, the relationship just will not work. Maintaining cooperation with each other is extraordinarily important to both countries and to the world. Right now, China and the U.S. see the real game between them. They need to return to rational strategies, immediately change their methods of communication, and embrace positive negotiations in official and unofficial channels. Afterward, Beijing and Washington will each need to immediately address one another’s concerns and develop a stable, concrete, mutually beneficial path. This will be quite a long process.
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