There is no hope of a sudden improvement in U.S.-China ties, but the Alaska meet is a start
As top diplomats from the U.S. and China begin their meeting in Alaska, there is no question that their conversation will be a difficult one. The meeting, between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Yang Jiechi, CCP Politburo member and Director, Central Foreign Affairs Commission, accompanied by U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, comes on the back of tensions that spiralled during the Trump administration around trade tariffs, 5G telecommunication, tech espionage, Chinese maritime actions and U.S. sanctions on China, and further exacerbated over the pandemic, which Mr. Trump called the “China virus”. Biden administration officials have said that they will bring up China’s crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Chinese aggression against U.S. allies and partners, in particular pressure on Australia over trade bans, aggression against Japan in the Senkaku islands and even the PLA’s incursions over the LAC, which China considers bilateral issues. Mr. Blinken prefaced the Alaska meet with visits to Seoul and Tokyo where he promised an American “pushback” to China, and he goes into the talks with the backing of the recent summit-level Quad conversations, with a commitment to ensuring a free Indo-Pacific. For its part, China is seeking a reversal of Trump-era policies, and structured dialogue to take forward ties from the point they have reached, arguably their lowest since the Nixon era. In particular, China wants an end to the U.S.’s trade sanctions, restrictions on American firms manufacturing in China and visa bans, and a reopening of its consulate in Houston.
Clearly, the scene is set for an extended airing of grievances, and expectations are low of any breakthrough, but the fact that the meeting is happening at all sends the signal that both sides are prepared to engage each other. Mr. Blinken’s formulation that the U.S. will be “competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be and adversarial when it must be” with China, chalks up climate change, the COVID-19 challenge and global economic recovery as areas of possible discussion. Research quoted by the World Economic Forum predicted that the U.S.-China tariff war itself could cost the world $600 billion. Afghanistan is another area where the U.S. and China have held three meetings last year as part of the “Troika” with Russia, and a common peace strategy could be another helpful conversation. The two sides are expected to discuss a possible summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. While New Delhi has a litany of its own grievances with Beijing, it too would benefit if a “Cold War” between the U.S. and China is averted, much like the rest of the world that has found itself akin to the proverbial grass when two elephants fight.