Yuan Sha: The Hawaii meeting: U.S., China seek to meet each other halfway

CGTN | 作者: Yuan Sha | 时间: 2020-07-15 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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With China-U.S. relations entering uncertain waters since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting between China's senior diplomat Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hawaii on June 16 to 17 is constructive in stabilizing bilateral relations. 

The two sides exchanged views on issues of common concern, clarified each other's stances and agreed to follow through on the consensus reached by the heads of state of the two countries.


Crisis control

The meeting received worldwide attention as it served as a concerted effort to deescalate tensions.

Since the U.S. announced its "great power competition" strategy with China, bilateral relations have undergone difficulties. The prolonged trade war has disrupted the two economies. Tensions have spilled over into a wider range of fronts including high-tech, journalism and academia. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the tensions.

As the U.S. Republican Party has settled on China-bashing as a convenient campaign strategy, it is doubtful that the Trump administration would make turnabouts in its China policy. 

The latest U.S. actions revolving around Xinjiang and Hong Kong demonstrate its ramped-up efforts to interfere in China's domestic affairs.   

With the intense war of words over the pandemic, the two sides feel it is imperative to cool things down and prevent bilateral relations from being hijacked by irrational sentiments. It is also critical to maintain an open diplomatic channel as the window of policy choices is narrowing.


A constructive dialogue

The meeting was largely substantive and constructive. But despite scant details, the two delegations were due to discuss a wide range of issues.

COVID-19 remains a top priority. The U.S. has used the pandemic to "stigmatize" China and speed up "decoupling" with China. But the full-blown pandemic on American soil alerted U.S. politicians that COVID-19 is a common enemy of mankind, and China and the U.S. remain indispensable partners in global health governance.

Trade is also a paramount issue. Four months ahead of the U.S. general election, President Trump is eager to revive a sagging U.S. economy which officially entered into recession in February. The China-U.S. Phase-One trade deal serves as a bright spot.

In fact, China has resumed the status of America's largest trading partner. With global shutdowns, curtailed traveling and falling energy prices, the two sides need to create favorable conditions to bolster the trade deal. Stabilized China-U.S. trade relations would also provide a strong engine to the battered world economy.

Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang are also issues of common concern. In addition, military affairs such as the recent U.S. military show of force in the South China Sea and Western Pacific, as well as the China-India border conflict are topical.

The U.S. is also keen on persuading China to participate in the renewed US-Russia nuclear arms control negotiations. Besides, the presence of Steve Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, indicated the shared interest of the two countries in managing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.


Powerful signals

The meeting itself sent a powerful signal that the two countries find it imperative to return to a more rational and sustainable path.

First, it is their highest level face-to-face meeting since the pandemic started, reflecting that both sides' strong willingness to stabilize their relations.

Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission, is China's highest-ranking official dedicated to diplomatic affairs. 

Mike Pompeo has fashioned himself as a staunch China hawk. A meeting between them demonstrates the political will of the two sides to reset bilateral ties.

Second, the timing merits attention. Although communications have changed due to the pandemic, phone calls or virtual meetings are no substitute for face-to-face dialogue between top diplomatic officials. Opting for an in-person meeting amid a raging pandemic demonstrates both urgency and utmost sincerity on both sides.

Last but not least, the choice of place is also telling. The meeting in Hawaii, halfway between China and the U.S. mainland, shows the good intentions of both sides to meet each other halfway. 

The meeting provided an opportunity to reassure each other of their respective intentions and bottom lines in an effort to avoid imprudent actions and reduce the risks of misunderstandings and miscalculations.



Source: CGTN, June 18, 2020.



Yuan Sha is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.