By M K BHADRAKUMAR
As a matter of fact, in the on-the-record press call on June 17 from the White House by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, there was ample hinting of new stirrings in the United States’ China policies. Sullivan let it be known that Biden “will look for opportunities to engage with President Xi [Jinping] going forward.”
Sullivan added that “soon enough, we will sit down to work out the right modality for the two presidents to engage.” As he put it, Biden is very much committed “to ensure that we have that kind of direct communication that we found valuable with President Putin yesterday.… It’s now just a question of when and how.”
Evidently, Sullivan has been on the ball since then. We now hear that US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to meet with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Xie Feng in the Chinese port city of Tianjin this week.
Reporting this, the Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta commented, “Although the White House has branded China a key potential adversary, Biden believes that face-to-face contact will clarify on which issues the sides would find common ground and where it would not.”
Again, on July 6, there were some definitive signals that the US approach to China might have begun shifting. This was discernible in an hour-long presentation by Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the India-Pacific and deputy assistant to the president – better known as Biden’s “Asia czar.”
Campbell was addressing the Asia Society, the influential New York-headquartered organization that has historically illuminated the Sino-American pathways and enhanced mutual understanding.
Campbell has a reputation for hawkish views and, therefore, his mellowed tone regarding the future trajectory of the US policy merit attention. Evidently, six months into the Biden presidency, after a lot of congratulations internally as well as with America’s allies, Campbell was speaking in the backdrop of discussions underway for a meeting between Biden and Xi.
One passage from Campbell’s presentation is reproduced below if only to give a flavor of what is afoot. In response to a pointed Churchillian query from the president of the Asia Society, Kevin Rudd, a well-known expert on China and a former diplomat and Australian prime minister, as to whether a cold war with China can be prevented at all, Campbell said:
“I don’t like the framing of the cold war very much. I’ve appreciated the work you’ve done on this. I am fearful that that framing obscures more than it illuminates. And I think it hardens us to fall back on patterns and thinking that is in no way helpful really, fundamentally to meet some of the challenges presented by China.…
“I believe the defining characteristic of the period ahead will be around competition and also at the same time finding areas where the United States can – it’s not necessarily cooperation, it can be just alignment of policies. The challenge ahead will be to present China with some opportunities.…”
The quote above should give a hint of a highly nuanced China policy being finessed in the White House. Rudd at one point began speculating whether it might not be a good idea for Australia to press the “pause” button on anti-China rhetoric for some time so that an opportunity becomes available for the relationship to be mended.
Equally, on Taiwan, Campbell flatly ruled out any hollowing out of the “one-China policy.” He said forcefully that while the US supports “a strong unofficial relationship” with Taiwan, there is no question of encouraging Taiwan’s independence. He admitted that it can be a delicate dangerous balance but felt it must be maintained.
Clearly, just as hints of a thaw in US-Russia relations might have appeared lately, a transitional period seems to lie ahead in the Biden administration’s policy toward China as well. Campbell confirmed the likelihood of a meeting between Biden and Xi “in the not too distant future.”
Indian Punchline and Globetrotter via Asia Times