EXPERT PERSPECTIVE – A meeting – albeit virtual – between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping finally took place. It was a cordial and reportedly sincere exchange that hopefully cooled some of the tension between the United States and China.
President Biden captured the essence of the meeting with his concern that this tension “does not turn into conflict, whether intentional or unintentional.” President Xi said: “China and the United States must increase communication and cooperation” and “respect each other and coexist in peace.”
It is hard to believe that in 1979, when formal diplomatic relations between the United States and China were established, Chinese President Deng Xiaoping saw the United States as the country that would provide investment, technology, and unlimited access to our top universities. And the United States did not disappoint. Investment and sophisticated technology flowed to China, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese students enrolling at our universities. Strategic bilateral cooperation initially contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, with joint efforts to address international terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
So over the course of forty-two years, relations have gone from close economic and strategic cooperation to a concern for conflicts, intentional or unintentional. Understandably, researchers will spend a lot of time analyzing what went wrong.
What is important now is that relations between the United States and China go in a more positive direction. That tension over China’s aggression against Taiwan, the militarization of islands and reefs in the South China Sea, the detention camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Hong Kong National Security Act that suppresses democratic protests and the theft of intellectual property rights, must all be openly discussed by our diplomats and leaders. Avoid misunderstandings and unintentional conflicts.
President Biden said Washington continues to pursue a “one China” policy and “opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo.” President Xi reportedly said: “Beijing will take decisive action if the pro-Taiwan independence movement crosses a red line.”
The three Communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 specifically state that, inter alia, “The United States’ decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests on the expectation that Taiwan’s future will be decided by peaceful means; to consider all efforts to determine Taiwan’s future with others means other than peaceful means, including through boycotts or embargoes, are a threat to peace and security in the western Pacific and of great concern to the United States. “
The challenge for the United States and China is to address Taiwan and a myriad of other irritating factors in the bilateral relationship to ensure that no issue, or series of issues, leads to conflict. Toning down the rhetoric and pursuing a policy of material and sustainable communication, especially from our diplomats, would be a necessary first step.
Cipher Brief hosts private reviews with the world’s most experienced national and global security experts. Become a member today.
The Annual Economic and Strategic Dialogue with China, led by the Heads of State and Finance and their Beijing counterparts, was set up to monitor progress in addressing these and other challenging issues. A forum of this kind, with announcements to ensure that the public is kept informed of the issues and the work done to resolve them, is of value, only if this dialogue is factual and not just ceremonial.
This virtual presidential summit could be groundbreaking if, in addition to addressing these and other irritating factors, it also addresses the possibility of cooperating on a range of geopolitical issues affecting security in the United States and China – and the world.
I start with the nuclear issue and the fact that there is minimal dialogue with China about its nuclear program. And given the recent reporting on the three sites in China with the construction of hundreds of missile silos and the latest DIA report that by 2030 China will have a nuclear arsenal of 1,000 nuclear warheads are worrying. Ideally, China should be part of New Start’s arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia. But they previously refused to join this or any other arms control dialogue. At the very least, China should be sensitive to a dialogue with the United States on nuclear issues, to include their latest test of two hypersonic missiles.
A separate but equally important dialogue with China is underway on cyber, to ensure that the cyber domain is not armed and used against our private sector for economic benefit. In addition, to ensure that outer space is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
There are a number of global issues that require bilateral cooperation. We recently saw some cooperation between the United States and China climate change at Glasgow COPS 26 UN Climate Change Conference. Of course, more needs to be done, but this is a positive first step.
Other issues that North Korea can and should address now. China has a unique influence with a North Korea that relies on China for its economic survival. China can use that leverage to get North Korea back to negotiations and to convince North Korea that complete and verifiable nuclear disarmament, in exchange for significant results, is in North Korea’s interest.
With over five million global victims and over 760,000 deaths in the United States due to covid-19, it should be obvious that greater bilateral cooperation on this and future pandemics is necessary.
Go beyond the headlines with an expert perspective on today’s news with The Cipher Brief’s Daily podcast with open source. Listen up or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Bilateral cooperation on nuclear proliferation, the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking and the confrontation of international organized crime are just some of the global issues affecting the security of the United States and China and the global community. Failure to cooperate on these and other international issues is not only a security requirement, but a moral responsibility of all great powers.
Finally, with the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, the United States and China have a common goal: to ensure that the Taliban do not allow Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to use Afghanistan again as a base for their international terrorist operations. China has committed this Taliban government and should use its significant financial leverage to ensure that all terrorist groups are permanently removed from Afghanistan.
Xi Jinping was just greased of the Chinese Communist Party as one of its revered leaders, with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The party congress next year is likely to give Xi a third five-year term as the party’s secretary general. There are a number of domestic issues that require the attention of Xis and the party, to include a “common prosperity” campaign – which addresses the differences in wealth in a China ruled by a capitalist system with Chinese characteristics.
Hopefully, President Xi Jinping will work with President Joe Biden to ensure that the two great powers, full of domestic issues, will also address the myriad of international issues that require immediate and long-term attention and avoid a cold war that could lead to conflict.
Read more expert-driven national security insights, perspectives and analysis in Cipher Brief