Beijing and Washington are at a Fork in the Road
In an effort to thaw frosty relations between the United States and China, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The meeting aimed to alleviate mounting concerns about the escalating possibility of a conflict between the two nations. Blinken engaged in discussions with Chinese officials on various topics including trade relations, spy balloons, maritime passage through the Taiwan Strait, and other relevant matters.
The U.S.-China rivalry is complex and multifaceted, involving a wide range of issues. While there are areas of competition and confrontation, there are also areas of cooperation and shared interests between the two countries. Managing this rivalry and finding avenues for constructive engagement and cooperation remains a significant challenge for both sides.
According to American officials, Blinken’s visit was deemed essential due to the crucial role high-level diplomacy plays in preventing overt conflict between the two global superpowers. Maintaining regular diplomatic exchanges between the United States and China, the world’s largest economies and militaries, is seen as vital. It is not only Washington and Beijing that desire stability, but also every other nation, except for possibly Iran, Russia, and North Korea. Diplomacy enables both sides to express their perspectives openly and privately during discussions, both in public and behind closed doors.
By hosting Blinken, China aimed to lay the necessary groundwork for a potential visit by Xi to the U.S. in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Such a visit could potentially result in a face-to-face meeting with President Biden, which would enhance Xi’s international standing.
Moreover, Beijing might also be driven by a sense of urgency to urge the Biden administration for further assurances that it will not exacerbate pro-independence sentiments in Taiwan, particularly with upcoming presidential elections in both the United States and Taiwan next year. During election years, politicians in both countries tend to intensify their criticism of Beijing, believing it to be beneficial in securing votes.
At the same time, China is humiliating the U.S., according to some experts. Compared to past visits by American officials, China did not roll out the red carpet for Blinken. Ahead of Blinken’s visit, the Biden administration deliberately managed expectations by setting them lower. The long-awaited diplomatic endeavor, originally scheduled for earlier this year but was postponed due to the controversy surrounding Chinese spy balloons, marked the first significant tour of its kind in five years. This unfortunate circumstance serves as a stark illustration of the deteriorated state of relations between the two nations.
During a political fundraiser, Biden openly referred to Xi as a dictator, a sentiment echoed by Blinken even after having just met with Xi. “The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment in it was he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said. “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators.”
In response to Biden’s remarks, China swiftly labeled the comment a “blatant political provocation,” underscoring the tensions surrounding the issue. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition,” Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said. “The U.S. remarks are extremely absurd and irresponsible.”
A recent diplomatic controversy has emerged over reports that Cuba has granted permission to China to construct a joint military training facility on the island, located just a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida. The Biden administration has acknowledged being aware of Chinese spy operations that have been targeting the U.S. for an extended period.
Over the past decade, the U.S. and China have experienced a complex and multifaceted rivalry that has evolved across various domains. Economic competition has been a central aspect of the U.S.-China rivalry. China’s rapid economic growth, its emergence as the world’s second-largest economy, and its expanding global influence have raised concerns in the U.S. which has accused China of unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft, and forced technology transfer. This has led to trade disputes, including the imposition of tariffs and trade restrictions by both sides.
The race for technological dominance has intensified the rivalry. China has made significant strides in areas like artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunications, and advanced manufacturing. The U.S., on the other hand, has raised concerns about China’s state-led technology development strategies, alleging national security risks and unfair competition. The U.S. has taken measures to restrict Chinese access to certain advanced technologies and has also implemented export controls.
On the geopolitical level, China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, its Belt and Road Initiative aimed at expanding its global influence through infrastructure projects, and its growing military capabilities have raised concerns among the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. has sought to counter China’s influence by enhancing alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.
China’s authoritarian political system and its human rights record have also been points of contention. The U.S. has criticized China’s human rights record, including its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and its crackdown on pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong. These issues have strained bilateral relations and led to diplomatic confrontations.
Security concerns related to emerging technologies have intensified the rivalry. The U.S. has raised concerns about Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei, or the social media app TikTok, alleging that they pose risks to national security due to potential backdoors and data privacy concerns. The U.S. has sought to limit Chinese companies access to its telecommunications networks and has encouraged its allies to adopt similar measures.
The ongoing rivalry between the U.S. and China has played out on the global stage, affecting international institutions and diplomatic relationships. Both countries have sought to gain influence and support in international organizations and forums. This has led to competition in areas such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and regional organizations, with the two sides often advocating for different approaches and policies.
This rivalry will continue over the next few decades. American influence is on the wane, while China’s influence is rising, especially in the Middle East and Africa. While the Biden administration wants to reduce American influence and share the world stage with other countries on equal footing, China wants to become the next global superpower – even if this means it will negatively affect its relationship with America.