Envoys' words seen as harbinger of hope
Expert says it is critical for Beijing, Washington to maintain cordial ties
Though the China-US relationship is highly taut at the moment, comments by top Chinese diplomats show that China is still committed to the relationship, even if some US politicians are not, a US academic says.
The relationship has had its ups and downs over the past 50 years and has at times been contentious, said Jon Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"But it's also been mutually beneficial and has served both countries well, from economics to culture to education."
Taylor said that sadly the relationship had deteriorated over the past three years and this had accelerated this year primarily because the US was taking a more hard line approach to China.
"If Wang Yi's and Yang Jiechi's comments are any indication, both showed that China is still committed to the relationship－even if certain US politicians aren't," Taylor said, referring to two senior Chinese diplomats.
Yang, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, said in a signed article titled "Respect History, Look to the Future and Firmly Safeguard and Stabilize China-US Relations "that China and the US need to jointly safeguard the foundation of bilateral relations and protect the friendship between the two people.
"From the outset of the normalization process, China-US relations have always been based on the common understanding that both sides recognize and respect each other's different social system," Yang said in the article published on Friday.
"Nonetheless, for some time, some politicians in the US have kept making false statements and groundless remarks against the Communist Party of China and China's political system. They have deliberately distorted and even attempted to write off the history of China-US relations for the past nearly 50 years."
As the world's most important bilateral relationship, there is a critical need to maintain cordial diplomatic relations, Taylor said.
The Trump administration "appears to be driven by the inherent pressure of a US presidential election as any strategically comprehensive policy initiative", he said.
As a result, "China-US relations have degenerated into harsh rhetoric, ill-conceived policy pronouncements, pessimism, antagonism and a winner-take-all mindset in almost every area of bilateral engagement."
In his speech, Yang called for China and the US to "assume a strategic height and long-term perspective, and keep their relations in the right direction with a sense of responsibility for history and the people", and "China and the US should avoid strategic miscalculation and manage well their differences".
Long-term best interests
Taylor said it is in the long-term best interests of the US and China, as well as the world, for both countries to return to a positive approach that engenders optimism and sustained bilateral cooperation.
"This doesn't mean capitulate on core interests or issues of great importance. What it does mean is the need to have ongoing and comprehensive engagement on a host of issues－even when those issues may very well elicit strong differences in opinion."
There is both time and room to stabilize and improve China-US relations, Taylor said, but his worry is how US domestic politics and a presidential election will affect this.
"Will we see further antagonistic actions by Trump in the run-up to the election? Count on it. It plays well with American voters and puts (the presumptive Democratic Party candidate Joe) Biden on the defensive, and will force him to respond with in-kind policy proposal (s) that will provide him cover from charges of being 'soft' on China," Taylor said.
This could delay, if not derail, any efforts to improve China-US relations, he said.
"Current China-US relations appear to be struggling to stay afloat. China's effort to fix the trajectory of the relationship is currently being met with what appears to be US indifference, if not outright hostility."
That must change, he said. "There must be some sort of floor where things bottom out and then begin to improve. For the sake of each nation and the world, it has to improve. That means countering the voices of those who are pressing for diplomatic and economic decoupling. Such myopic thinking is a recipe for a new Cold War and even the end of China-US diplomatic relations."
Taylor is hopeful that change will come. "There is a real possibility that we will see a change in the White House in November. That could provide the necessary opening for a reset on the China-US relationship."
Eric Heikkila, a professor in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California and the author of the forthcoming book China from a US Policy Perspective, said: "It is important for leadership in both countries to understand that it is so much easier to undermine good relations than it is to restore them.
"Damage that has already been done in the past few years will not be easily repaired. It is better to be on the 'losing' side of a win-win proposition than it is to be on the 'winning' side of a lose-lose proposition."
David Griffith, past chair and board member of the Long Beach-Qingdao China Sister City Association, agreed that "having good relations between the top two economies and superpowers… is very important for the citizens of both countries".
"I believe that the current tensions have become elevated because the United States is in a presidential election year where 'being tough on China' has become a major campaign theme for at least one of the political parties, and possibly both.
"I would hope that both sides can let cooler heads prevail in the next 90 days so as not to escalate adverse measures taken to a point where lasting damage is inflicted on US-China relations. I do see brighter days ahead for the US and China after the election in early November. Until then both sides should strive not to undertake tit-for-tat retaliation."
Laszlo Montgomery, a China-hand and creator and presenter of The China History Podcast, said: "We've been here before. And we bounced back as I'm sure we'll bounce back again. We worked out our differences back in the early 1970s … and believe me there was a heck of a chasm that existed.
"I'm sure I speak for a lot of people in hoping that our respective leaders and everyone professionally, politically or spiritually committed to improving the US-China relationship will come together … right now. There sure are enough mistakes and miscalculations on both sides to fulminate over and perhaps learn from."