Officials and experts have urged China and the United States to reshape their damaged relationship and called on the new US administration to employ positive policies to refresh ties with Beijing to benefit both nations and the world.
Addressing the virtual Vision China event organized by China Daily on Thursday, Le Yucheng, vice-minister of foreign affairs, expressed hope that the new year will bring a new start to China-US relations.
Le said he was impressed by US President Joe Biden’s repeated appeal to people in the US for unity over the division in his inauguration address. “I believe we need exactly the same spirit for China-US relations,” he added.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to China as well as the famous “ping-pong diplomacy”. “As the story of ‘the tiny ball moved the big ball’ goes, it took those great men before us extraordinary wisdom and courage to break the ice in China-US relations,” Le said. “The challenges we face today call for the same vision and courage to break the ice again.”
Le called on the world’s two largest economies to shoulder their important responsibilities for world peace and development, and strive to expand their shared interests and cooperation. The joint fight against COVID-19, economic recovery, and climate change could be priority areas of cooperation for the near term, he said.
“Anything is possible when China and the United States choose to cooperate,” Le said, adding that the two countries can work together to avoid the so-called Thucydides Trap. The term describes the tendency toward conflict when an emerging power threatens to displace an existing power.
The Vision China event, with the theme “Moving Forward: The Future of China-US Relations”, was broadcast online to a global audience. It was the 17th edition since China Daily launched the series, in which influential political, business, and academic speakers are invited to tell China’s story from a global perspective and discuss major China-related topics of international interest.
In a speech at the event, Zhou Shuchun, publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily, called on both countries to “stand on the right side of history” in developing their relations.
Zhou said it is precisely because governments, politicians, and people from both sides chose to “stand on the right side of history” that the two countries broke the ice more than 40 years ago and developed a fruitful relationship.
“As a bridge linking China and the world, we at China Daily — and with this Vision China event today — are joining the aspiration to see China-US relations walk on the right side of history as history requires,” he added.
In his speech, Stephen S. Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and former chief economist at Morgan Stanley, said the US-China relationship remains the major risk factor in the global economic outlook for 2021.
He suggested the two countries rethink the nature of the dialogue between them and set up a full-time office that addresses all aspects of their relationship on a permanent basis.
In terms of the resolution of trade disputes between China and the US, Roach said Washington needs to look at its trade imbalances in the context that it has a major shortfall of domestic savings.
“So the savings solution needs to be thought of on a medium to the longer-term basis, not something immediately, but the commitment to saving more is the only effective macroeconomic strategy that we can employ to alleviate our enormous and destabilizing multilateral trade imbalance issue,” he added.
In resolving difficulties in the US-China relationship, Roach suggested shifting the focus of the economic and trade conflict away from bilateral trade to structural considerations.
“There’s no quick fix to defusing the conflict that has emerged, but I think if we take small steps and began to demonstrate a commitment to conflict resolution rather than conflict escalation, we have a real opportunity as America changes leadership to move from a climate of distrust to a climate that now takes us back to a more trusting relationship between us,” Roach said.
Da Wei, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, stressed the importance of “sustainable” and “effective” dialogues in improving China-US relations and said the two countries need to establish some kind of mechanism to stabilize their ties.
He said there are elements of competition in China-US ties, but he didn’t think “the old-style Soviet-US Cold War competition” remains in relations between Beijing and Washington. There are broad fields in which China and the US can cooperate with each other, he said.
David Firestein, president, and CEO of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations said that the notion that China is fundamentally a critically important competitor to the US will remain a core element of the US mindset toward China.
However, Firestein added that he thinks the new US administration will likely depart from Trump administration policy. There is the opportunity to “built back better” the US-China relationship under the new US administration, he said.
“The US-China relationship has always been immensely important. It has always been complex. It will remain complex and challenging as we go forward. … And I hope that this is an opportunity where we can take stock of the US-China relationship,” Firestein said.
John Ross, a senior fellow at Renmin University of China’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and former director of economic and business policy for the mayor of London, said the inauguration of the new US administration should be “an opportunity to reset China-US relations after the rather negative period”.
Relations between China and the US are so important because they affect not only themselves but also the world, Ross said. He expressed hope that the new US administration will adopt a policy of win-win cooperation with China instead of a Cold War mentality.