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Veteran ex-diplomat says dialogue key to bilateral relations

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-11-26 07:00
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File photo of Fu Ying, former Chinese vice-foreign minister [Photo/Xinhua]

As China and the United States refresh their "seriously damaged "relations, they need to manage their competition "cooperatively", keeping in mind that dialogue is essential to avoid misunderstandings and unexpected conflicts, according to a veteran former Chinese diplomat.

"Both governments have heavy domestic agendas to attend to, and so even if competition between China and the United States is unavoidable, it needs to be managed well, cooperatively," former Chinese vice-foreign minister Fu Ying wrote in The New York Times on Tuesday.

It is possible for the two countries to develop a relationship of "coopetition" (cooperation plus competition) by addressing each other's concerns, she noted.

Fu's article appeared a day after the US General Services Administration announced it would begin the transition process for President-elect Joe Biden, and it offered a glimpse into the thinking in Beijing.

In explaining why the Times published the piece, Kathleen Kingsbury, acting editorial page editor, said, "There's no denying that US-China relations have been damaged over the past four years."

Kingsbury added that Fu was "setting out the terms" under which Beijing plans to work with a new Biden administration.

On Monday, the Biden team said it had tapped Antony Blinken to be US secretary of state. Blinken had served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under former president Barack Obama.

For Biden, the choice signals a return to a more traditional foreign policy that favors strong international relationships, according to US media reports.

In her article, Fu said each side must accurately assess the other's intentions in order to revive the relationship.

"It would be a tragedy of history if two countries of such power moved toward confrontation based on misperceptions," she wrote.

"That would only work against their own fundamental interests, and many businesses and people would pay the price."

Fu's comment echoed a warning from former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who last week urged Washington and Beijing to define what to avoid and achieve, and to forge a "strategically stable relationship" capable of preventing a catastrophe comparable to World War I.

Fu, a vice-chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, said: "China does not want to replace US dominance in the world. Nor does China need to worry about the United States changing China's system."

It seems that both sides are convinced it is always the other party that is in the wrong; any initiative one of them undertakes is invariably seen by the other as an attempt to undermine it, she continued.

For example, China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative as a global public good to promote more growth and greater connectivity, but the US interprets the project as a strategy for geopolitical dominance, according to Fu.

She commented that on the political front, it is high time that Washington dropped its habit of interfering in other countries' internal affairs.

"America's concerns that foreign forces might interfere with its presidential elections should serve as a good reminder of why other countries are so sensitive about US intervention in their own domestic affairs," Fu wrote.

China finds it offensive when the US points a finger at the Chinese system or takes action against Beijing on its policies on domestic matters, but China also needs to be more proactive in providing the rest of the world firsthand information about what the country stands for and why it is doing what it is doing, according to Fu.

Fu proposed the two militaries talk at the strategic level, to avoid any misunderstandings and unexpected conflicts.

Global issues

Fu also wrote that she saw room for cooperation on a host of global issues, including climate change, public health, economic stability and digital security.

"To tackle these challenges, China and the United States should join hands and cooperate with all other concerned parties," she wrote. "Only then can multilateralism continue to bring hope for the betterment of humankind."

The need for multilateral cooperation is also what Biden and his team seem committed to.

US foreign policy under a Biden administration is likely to focus on taking new paths on issues such as climate change and the pandemic, as the former vice-president promised during the campaign.

In a recommendation for the Biden administration, Jeff Bader, senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution, said that while "strategic competition" with China will be the overall framework for the immediate future, it would be contrary to US interests to treat China as an enemy.

"There are transnational issues where US-China cooperation is essential, such as climate change, nonproliferation, public health and combating epidemics, and tension reduction in regional hot spots," Bader noted.

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