The senior officials of the Chinese government and the US State Department officials met in a city in Alaska from March 18 to 19. This was the first encounter the Chinese government had with the Biden Administration. It was hoped that the consummate diplomats would lift the present tumultuous relation to a level of understanding paving the way for excoriating the irritants that have mired the bilateral relation in recent years. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his opening statement, instead unleashed a barrage of accusations calling China a "threat to global stability". He referred to denial of human rights, Hongkong, Myanmar, North Korea and trade where Chinese positions stand opposite to that of the United States and characterised it as "biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century". Responding to the accusations, Yang Jiechi, the leader of Chinese delegation, said, "we do not believe in invading through the use of force, or topple other regimes through various means or to massacre the people of other countries, because all of these would only cause turmoil and instability in this world." Jiechi reminded his counterpart that US imperialism had launched multiple military interventions in the past 20 years and the failed attempts had sown the seeds of instability. The acrimonious statements in front of local and foreign media received wide publicity at home and abroad.
The United States harboured a hostile and diabolical policy towards mainland China since 1949. It accorded recognition to Taiwan and installed it in the United nations Security Council as one of the five permanent members. China with a population of over 1 billion was unfairly kept out of the United Nations and other international organisations. Despite being out of the United Nations, China did not remain isolated. It successfully emerged in the international arena, became one of the founding members of the Non-alignment movement which encompassed large number of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In partnership with Indonesia, India, Egypt and Yugoslavia China became a champion of the newly independent countries in their struggle against imperialism. The NAM was striving to promote "third trajectory" distancing from the capitalist countries led by the United States as well as the socialist countries led by the then the Soviet Union.
In the Korean War (1951-1953) China directly aided North Korea against the US led coalition with arms and armed Chinese personnel. In the Vietnam War (1962 - 1975) China lent support to North Vietnam's guerrilla warfare against the United States though the support was mostly political. In Vietnam War, the United States suffered a humiliating defeat with over 54,000 soldiers dead and many more injured.
The US-China relation took a turning point following a discreet visit by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Beijing in summer 1971. He met the Chinese top leaderships and laid the ground for diplomatic relationship. In July 1971, Washington accorded recognition to China and enabled Beijing to occupy one of the permanent members seat in the Security Council. Taiwan ceased representation in the United nations.
Following diplomatic recognition, the US and China established trade relationship. The US was buying mostly agricultural products from China. In 1979, the volume of trade between the two countries reached $4.00 billion. President Reagan permitted China to buy military hardware from the United States in 1984. President Clinton signed US-China Trade Relation Act in 2000 granting China permanent trade partnership. The US-China trade surged to $ 234 billion in 2004 and the volume of trade reached $600 billion in 2007 making China third largest trading partner of the United States. In the process, the US was however importing much more Chinese products and the trade deficit with China exceeded $ 295 billion in 2011 which became a growing concern to successive American administrations.
In the past four decades China has achieved tremendous economic prosperity largely because it departed from highly centralised and rigid trade policies and welcomed foreign investment in several sectors of the economy while retaining one party political system. The outcome was astonishing. Several cities including Shanghai took a new look with high-rise buildings, luxury hotels and spacious roads with imported vehicles from South Korea and Japan. It focused on manufacturing industries and successfully made products ranging from household items to construction materials to equipment needed in schools, clinics and hospitals. A large number of students were able to puruse higher education in the United States and in Europe; many of them returned to China and devoted to upgrading the system at home. Those who remained abroad, especially in the United States, excelled in their respective field of studies and contributed to American institutions. Chinese doctors, engineers and professionals are well known in many cities in the United States. Chinese professional's contributions in European countries are no different.
President Obama created Trans Pacific Partnership-- a trading block, encompassing 12 countries in the Far East and Australia in 2011 to counter China's growing clout in the region. Obama believed the TPP would help diminish US trade deficit with China. He approved deployment of 2,500 marines in Australia signaling that Chinese naval ships frequent patrolling in the South China Sea has been fraught with circumspection. Two years later, Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping established a model of relationship ranging from bilateral issues to global warming and North Korea.
President Trump viewed the US being ripped off by China and imposed $150 billion tariff on products imported by China in January 2018. Six month later, another $34 billion tariff was imposed on 800 Chinese products. China retaliated by imposing $34 billion tariff on 500 American products. In 2020, Trump signed a trade agreement with Chinese Vice President Liu under which Beijing agreed to purchase additional $200 billion worth of American agricultural products. The issue of relaxing tariffs was reserved for next round of negotiation.
Now the Biden administration has the option to launch all out confrontation with China or to engage in charting a trajectory courting Beijing to resolve issues that are pivotal to US interests. The denuclearization of Iran, containment of North Korea, uprising against military rule in Myanmar, oppression of Uighurs, political freedom in Hongkong are some of the issues where settlement cannot be reached without China's benedictions. The State Department cannot reinvent the wheel and look for resolution of these issues with the help of the Quad comprised of Australia, Japan, India and the US.
Three days after the US-China meeting held in Alaska, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came to Beijing and urged China and Russia, two likeminded countries, to join the forces to dismantle the US dollar's grip over the international payments system that facilitates US sanctions. Lavrov commented that the United States was relying on the military-political alliances of the Cold War era. In 2018, Chinese President Xi met Russian President Putin in Vladivostok as Chinese military joined 300,000 Russian troops in the biggest Russian military drill since the Cold War. In recent years Russia has increased trade with China and become its second oil supplier.
Early in the week, Chinese leader Xi sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hailing the relationship between the two countries as a "valuable asset" and promising humanitarian aid. Kim, meanwhile stressed unity and cooperation with China in the face of a hostile new US administration. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left on a visit to the Middle East on March 25. Among other capital cities Wang Yi is expected to stop in are Tehran, Riyadh and Ankara.
China is not a new comer in the Middle East. In July 2020, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Jarif announced that his government was negotiating with China over a 25-year strategic partnership that could involve an investment of $400 billion in Iran. The multifaceted deal would increase intelligence sharing and security cooperation, expand Chinese collaboration in railways, telecommunications and ensure steady oil supply to China for 25 years. China would also invest in developing free trade zones in strategic locations in Iran.
Russia and China declared in July 2020 that they would oppose any resolution in the Security Council calling arms embargo against Iran after its expiry due in mid-October 2020.
Given China's resurgence as another super-power and its growing economic partnership with countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, China is likely to use its power to challenge the United States. The State Department must have taken note of China's growing clout in different regions. There is no alternative to pursuing a working relationship despite profound differences with Beijing's official policy.
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury is a former official of the United Nations.