Chilly Response From Communist China After Biden’s Forecast of a Thaw

Neither side wants the acrimony to escalate to crisis level, but Beijing is leaving no doubt the prospects are dim for warming up on a wide range of issues.

Li Rui/Xinhua via AP
China's new ambassador to the United States, Xie Feng, at New York on May 23, 2023. Li Rui/Xinhua via AP

Communist China is pouring freezing water over President Biden’s hopeful forecast of a “thaw” in the worsening cold war between Washington and Beijing.

Neither side wants the acrimony to escalate to crisis level, but Beijing is leaving no doubt the prospects are dim for warming up on a wide range of issues.

“All Chinese people are closely watching US actions, from the Taiwan Straits to China’s periphery, from the technological field to cultural exchanges,” the English-language Global Times, published by the party paper, People’s Daily, observed. “Is it possible to have a ‘thaw’ when they shout for dialogue with a mask on their head but a hidden weapon in their hand?”

China’s new ambassador to Washington, Xie Feng, facing what he called “serious difficulties and challenges,” was asking that question on his first day on the job on Tuesday. Diplomatically, he said he hoped to “expand our cooperation so that our relationship will be back on the right track,” but showed no sign of compromise.

Sticking points range from America’s support of the Republic of China on Taiwan, which Beijing frequently vows to recover, to sanctions imposed by Washington to get the Chinese to stop copycatting American technology and engaging in unfair trade practices.

True, Mr. Biden, before leaving last Sunday for Washington after the G-7 summit at Hiroshima, suggested he’s gotten over his annoyance regarding the spy balloons that China was wafting  over North America  last winter.

Those incidents prompted Secretary Blinken to cancel a visit to Beijing in February in which he was to have met President Xi, but the rancor is fading. “Everything changed in terms of talking to one another,” Mr. Biden said at Hiroshima, but “I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly.”

If there is any thaw, it’s in the level of rhetoric and also in Chinese intimidation of Taiwan, which is governed entirely independently of Beijing. Chinese forces seem to have let up somewhat on fighter flights into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the line down the middle of the Taiwan Straits between the mainland and the island.

Forget about easing sanctions, though. A Department of State spokesman, Matthew Miller, had a sharp, non-compromising response to whether Washington might lift or ease sanctions in keeping with Mr. Biden’s prediction of unfreezing frosty relations with Beijing. “We are not,” he said.

As Mr. Biden had “made clear,” Mr. Miller went on, “we are not planning to lift any sanctions on him or on China more broadly.”

A veteran commentator on Asia who served on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush presidency, Michael J. Green, was skeptical about prospects for a real improvement in Chinese-American relations. 

Rather, talking online from his present perch as director of American studies at the University of Sydney, he predicted a pattern of ups and downs while both sides stick to well-known policies. In a Zoom conversation, he was optimistic about the relations America has formed with allies from Australia to Japan and South Korea in defense against China.

The Global Times, from the Chinese perspective, was equally hard-line. “Although more frequent high-level re-engagement between the two countries will help prevent bilateral relations from further spiraling downward,“ the paper said, Chinese experts “are not optimistic on any significant progress in China-U.S. relations.”

The paper quoted the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, Wu Xinbo, as saying the Biden administration’s “basic strategic judgment about China remains unchanged.”

“If Washington really wants to see a ‘thaw’ in U.S.-China relations,” he reportedly said, “it should stop provoking China on the Taiwan question, remove unilateral tariffs on Chinese products, lift sanctions on Chinese institutions, and reduce obstacles for people-to-people exchanges.” 

It would be “pointless,” he said, “if the U.S. only comes up with empty words, seeking to gain benefits from trade relations with China while continuing to contain us.”


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