The economic interdependence between China and the U.S. makes it practically impossible to isolate specific concerns, as was the case in the era of confrontation with the Soviet Union.
In a recent Foreign Affairs article titled “America, China, and the Virtue of Low Expectations,” author Ryan Hass discusses the current relationship between these two countries and how modest goals and active diplomacy might turn things around in this relationship.
Expectations were low for Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Beijing beyond stabilizing the relationship and reopening communication channels; this at least seems to have been achieved. Blinken was able to meet with various authorities and, finally, with Xi Jinping, a positive sign of openness to future dialogue. Foreign Minister Qin Gang will visit the U.S. soon, and several U.S. Cabinet members will visit Beijing, beginning with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who is highly respected in China.
There are still great differences. The internal environment in both countries is characterized by distrust toward the other, offering little room for maneuvering in a search for points of compromise. As for the U.S., the current contest between the two political parties in demonstrating which side is tougher on China is likely to become more contentious as the presidential election approaches. Joe Biden has imposed several restrictive measures regarding the export of advanced semiconductors; he is expected to impose restrictions on investments in China in other strategic sectors.
On the other hand, there is China’s increasingly assertive position toward Taiwan, conducting constant military exercises in response to U.S. actions considered to be provocative or supportive of possible independence for the island.
An unmet objective of the visit is the enhancement of military communication to prevent possible misunderstandings.
On the other hand, there is also an economic interdependence between the two, as well as with Europe, that makes it essentially impossible to isolate concerns, as was the case in the era of the confrontation with the Soviet Union. In fact, earlier language about economic “decoupling” has been evolving to one of “risk reduction,” suggesting that only certain strategic sectors, such as advanced technologies or defense, would actually be restricted.
On Biden’s recent trip to Europe at a meeting of the World Economic Forum, that issue was central for Chinese Premier Li Qiang — a demonstration of China’s interest in the improvement of relationships with Western powers. It is seeking to ensure that these measures do not add to the pressure on its economy, which is currently dealing with great demographic, environmental and territorial challenges, among others.
Within this context, the reality is that this increasingly hostile environment of open competition between the two countries involves sensitive issues, such as security (recent Chinese military expansion in Cuba), technology, sovereignty and sanctions, among others.
The truth is that a return to communication reduces the risks of confrontation and sheds more light on the international community regarding changes between the two main powers.