Washington must match words with action to rebuild Sino-US ties
Few ties stand out as diverse and influential in global affairs as the one between the United States and China. The recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to San Francisco for the 2023 APEC Summit, as well as his meeting with President Joe Biden, is the latest chapter in the rich saga of this critical bilateral relationship.
Such high-level interaction appears to indicate China's determination to rebuild ties with the US through constructive dialogue and cooperation – a gesture of goodwill in the midst of growing tensions and rivalry.
Underneath this diplomatic courtesy, however, lies a more profound question with enormous stakes: Will the US choose to respond to these overtures toward enhanced cooperation with substantive and long-term actions of its own, or will they fizzle out and revert to the familiar pattern of unrealized potential and unrestrained competition that has come to characterize relations in recent years?
Unfortunately, the recent trajectory of China-US ties has been typified by a mismatch between optimistic cooperative rhetoric and aggressive unilateral actions by the US. Previous meetings between the leaders of both countries ended with lofty declarations espousing mutual understanding and commitment to collective problem-solving on global concerns. However, too often, the aftermath of such interactions has seen the US revert to and increase its competitive posture toward China through expanded sanctions, export restrictions and an eagerness for economic and technological decoupling. Such unilateral moves have not only hampered effective cooperation but have also fostered mistrust and friction, fueling bilateral tensions.
In contrast to the US, China has consistently proven to be a reliable partner, upholding its commitments to enhancing ties through dialogue and cooperation. President Xi's sincere outreach is yet another manifestation of China's goodwill and desire for friendship between the two peoples. It demonstrates China's persistent effort to shift the tone and trajectory of this critical relationship, signaling a willingness for candid exchange and enhanced collaboration.
China's proactive approach could be interpreted as a significant diplomatic gesture, demonstrating its recognition of the importance of stable and constructive relations with the US. This is especially important given the global community's daunting problems, which range from climate change and post-pandemic recovery to financial stability and technological innovation.
The crux of the matter, however, is whether the US will choose to reciprocate these goodwill gestures with genuine cooperative actions. After witnessing the cyclical nature of this relationship, seesawing precariously between fleeting moments of tentative cooperation and extended periods of unfettered antagonism, people in both countries will expect these encouraging words to translate into actual policies and outcomes.
People in both countries desire a clear break from the current trend of regularly replacing lofty diplomatic agreements with unilateral US measures that clearly contradict the spirit of such agreements. As a result, the onus is now squarely on US policymakers to not only match China's overtures in kind but also to ensure that America's own commitments do not ring hollow again.
Realizing these lofty goals will indubitably be difficult. It is crucial not to overlook the serious impediments posed by ideological disparities between the two countries, unresolved disputes over human rights, and competing strategic interests. Furthermore, the current domestic political climate in the US, which is profoundly impacted by partisan splits and shifting goals between presidential administrations, adds another degree of complication to establishing consistent and long-term China policy. Despite initial optimism and a shared vision, these factors have historically hampered the path to cooperation.
While competitive aspects will undoubtedly arise, the current hostile posture suits neither country's interests. There is significant room for the US to match China's goodwill gestures and realign relations in a positive direction. This will require political courage and wisdom to align actions with ambitious rhetoric. Admittedly, the road ahead will not be smooth, and challenges must be managed prudently. However, by prioritizing cooperation over confrontation, the fruits of strengthened bilateral ties can be realized.
As the world's two foremost powers, the US and China bear enormous responsibility for navigating their relationship responsibly. How they choose to interact will have global ramifications. Effective collaboration on urgent global challenges such as climate change, economic stability, and technological innovation is possible if objectives are aligned. However, the continuation of debilitating rivalry and unfulfilled commitments can exacerbate worldwide uncertainty and impede collective advancement on common concerns.
In essence, President Xi's visit demonstrates China's willingness to undertake long-term efforts to recalibrate relations toward a more constructive path, guided by the spirit of mutual understanding and win-win cooperation.
The onus is now on the US to respond to this overture with real actions that demonstrate farsighted leadership and a preference for cooperation over zero-sum competition when engaging with China. This would begin to restore America's credibility as a cooperative global partner, unlocking enormous possibilities for shared progress on the world's most pressing concerns. The well-being of both countries and the globe at large is dependent on relationships founded on dialogue, trust, and maturity.
(The author is a research fellow with the School of Law, Chongqing University.)