Diplomacy is Generally More Effective than Stern Warnings
The United States and the Soviet Union avoided a nuclear exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis largely thanks to backchannel diplomacy. Today, diplomacy, whether out in the open or behind closed doors is more important than ever, especially between Washington and Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his trip to China and issued stern warnings to his diplomatic counterparts in Beijing following the discovery of several Chinese spy balloons over parts of the United States. Rather than diplomatic silence or lectures, the United States should promote dialogue with China. Diplomacy and open lines of communication between Washington and Beijing will decrease tensions which will lead to areas of cooperation.
Diplomatic engagement reduces the possibility of conflict. Following former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August, bilateral relations worsened, and China expressed disapproval by conducting military drills in the East China Sea. Beijing considered Pelosi’s visit an affront, whereas the U.S. viewed the visit as promoting Taiwan’s economic and security interests. Maintaining communication channels allows each state to communicate, negotiate, and avoid conflict.
Engagement and communication promote cooperation. In response to the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, both the U.S. and China rushed humanitarian aid into affected areas. The U.S. is giving Turkey and Syria a combined $100 million in aid, rescue crews, medical supplies, and concrete-breaking equipment. China has supplied rescue teams and approximately $10 million in aid to Turkey and Syria. Regardless of each state’s political objectives, each is supplying aid to benefit the suffering—and they should work together. Bilateral coordination of crews and aid would allocate resources more effectively and improve overall diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. An enhanced communication network will develop a common ground to negotiate and discuss other issues, such as Ukraine.
Engagement and communication promote healthy economic competition. Both countries’ economies are intertwined with one another. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2022, the estimated value of goods traded between the two was estimated to be almost $700 billion. Each nation possesses a large share of the global economy with considerable sway in production, manufacturing, and capital investment. Competition for market shares and divergent business interests have led to a trade war lasting across multiple presidential administrations. Sending signals, such as tariffs, allows each nation to communicate its displeasure and signal its opinions without conflict. Diplomatic engagement should continue, regardless of any disagreements. Each state should also be open to negotiating a reduction of tariffs on their respective economies.
Many Americans see the primary threat coming from a rising China. As the perception of threat increases, so does the relevance of diplomacy. Diplomatic engagement allows Washington and Beijing to voice their opinions and negotiate peacefully. Engagement decreases the probability of a misunderstanding which could lead to armed conflict. Competition between the U.S. and China will always exist, so why not make it less antagonistic? In the end, you don’t always have to like your rivals, but you should strive to at least get along.
Engagement will open other avenues of diplomatic cooperation. For example, Washington should expand educational and cultural exchanges with Beijing. Expanding cultural exchange programs enables citizens of both countries to be more open to the understanding of each other’s cultures and, in turn, policies. As Albert Einstein once said: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” Only through diplomatic engagement and communication can we obtain the capacity to understand our rivals, avoid conflict, and preserve peace. The U.S. should avoid throwing down the gauntlet of conflict. Instead, we should choose the olive branch of communication. As history shows us, diplomatic engagement is the pathway to peace.