Biden’s relations with China are stuck on the starting line

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Both the US and China described Wednesday’s meeting in Zurich as “constructive” and “clear” – an improvement from other recent encounters in which US officials say Chinese officials were either deceiving their US negotiators Or were stubbornly ready to talk.

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yes but: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi spent most of their six-hour meeting not talking about key issues in the relationship, but about how the US and China run the risk of humiliation, humiliation and dangerous misunderstandings. can go on without it. . Nine months into Biden’s tenure, the relationship hasn’t really hit the starting line.

  • Asked after the meeting if there is one issue on which the US and China are currently able to work productively, a senior US official did not name one.

big picture: Relations were always going to be tense, but it is arguably in the mutual interest of the superpowers to come together on things like vaccine access and recovery from the pandemic, climate policy ahead of the crucial COP26 summit, geopolitical issues like North Korea, and trade disputes. work. Left over from Donald Trump’s term.

  • Instead, vaccine diplomacy has become another area of ​​competition, and the climate summit is doomed to procrastination.
  • The Biden administration this week accused Beijing of cheating in Trump’s “phase one” trade deal and said there would be no “phase two”.
  • Also, the US and China have consistently been on opposite sides when key issues have come up in forums such as the UN Security Council.
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Between the lines: Biden came into office promising to compete with China in areas such as technological development, confronting Beijing for human rights abuses, and cooperation on climate change and other important issues.

  • But China has said it will not deal with issues like climate separately from broader ties: If the US wants confrontation, the rhetoric goes, it will get it.

Bottom-line: The senior official summed up Biden’s current objectives for the relationship in relatively modest terms:

  • “What we are trying to achieve is a stable position between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly.”
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