By Kostas Raptis
Competition doesn’t have to run rampant. That’s the central meaning of the messages being discreetly exchanged between China and the US as they prepare for Xi Jinping’s big meeting with Joe Biden in San Francisco on the occasion of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit. from the 11th to the 17th of the month.
At a time when the drums of war are sounding louder and louder in the Middle East, without ever having quieted down in Ukraine, the two most powerful countries on the planet are oriented towards a delimitation of their difficult relationship, both economically and geopolitically level.
The “carriers” of the messages
The promoters got busy. First, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Washington from October 25 to 27, for talks with his counterpart Anthony Blinken.
His own role was played by the governor of California (and tomorrow’s potential contender for the Democratic presidential nomination) Gavin Newsom, who on the very same days was in Beijing, where he was warmly received by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and vice president Han Zheng. The hosts had the satisfaction of hearing the promising American politician state that he is against Taiwan independence and US-China (economic) “decoupling”.
The visit that Anthony Albanese, prime minister of Australia (a close ally of the US) is making to the Chinese capital from today, should not be considered completely unrelated to the above, which oscillates between the economic “attraction” exerted by China in the wider region and the security plans, such as AUKUS and Quad, which Washington is working on precisely for the Asia-Pacific region. Contrary to previous statements by Australian decision-makers in the recent past, which did not even rule out a military conflict with China over Taiwan, the new Albanese government has set its line on “cooperation with Beijing where possible and differentiation where necessary” “.
Nuclear is on the table
And the messages are multiplying: according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the day after tomorrow, China and the US will open talks (the first of their kind since the Obama administration) on nuclear arms control. The two delegations will be headed by Mallory Stewart, a State Department official, and Sun Xiaobo, director of the arms control division at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is apparently the first fruit of Wang Yi’s visit to Washington.
The Pentagon estimates that the Chinese side has 500 nuclear warheads, which could reach 1,000 by 2030. And contrary to the standard framework that existed (at least until the New Start agreement was revoked) between the US and Russia, which have 90% of nuclear weapons on earth, China considers its comparatively small arsenal non-negotiable.
Objectively, given the sanctions and the trade war that mark it, the US Treasury also has a leading role in the Sino-American relationship. In a speech Thursday ahead of the APEC summit, Janet Yellen assured Pacific Rim countries that the US approach to relations with China will not lead to a “catastrophic bifurcation” of the international economy, forcing them to to choose a side.
He insisted, however, that Washington follows a policy of “de-risking and diversifying” its economic relationship with the Asian giant, investing in strengthening domestic manufacturing and strengthening ties with other partners around the world – always taking into account the national security factor as well, but with a strict focus and not aimed at stopping China’s growth.
In any case, “claims that America is withdrawing from the Asia-Pacific region are completely unfounded as we deepen our economic ties with the entire region” for mutual benefit, Yellen added. As he noted, the volume of bilateral trade with the region reached 2.28 trillion. dollars in 2022, up 25% from 2019.
One reason for this was certainly the removal of American supply chains from China to its neighboring countries (e.g. Vietnam), as it was launched under Donald Trump and accelerated with the pandemic.
Beijing: “Helix” the course
China and the United States should have an “objective understanding” of each other’s strategic intentions and take the right view of competing actors in their future dealings, China’s foreign ministry said on Monday.
Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin made the remarks at a regular press conference in response to a question about Wang Yi’s statement that the road to a meeting between the two countries’ leaders in San Francisco “will not be smooth.” “Wang Yi noted that looking back at the tortuous course of Sino-US relations since the beginning of this year, the experience is worth summarizing and lessons should be learned,” the foreign ministry spokesman said.
Referring to the talks, the spokesman said that according to the head of Chinese diplomacy, the most important thing is to comply with the consensus of the two heads of state, to stabilize the bilateral relations between China and the United States, and to keep communication channels open.
China and the United States also agreed to hold consultations on maritime affairs and arms control and non-proliferation in the coming days (already underway).