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Xi, Biden engagement essential to fixing ties, analysts say

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-09-13 07:14
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Chinese and US flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, on Jan 21, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Top-level engagement between Washington and Beijing is essential for the world's two largest economies to resolve the impasse over bilateral relations, analysts said after United States President Joe Biden held a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, only their second since Biden took office.

During the conversation, Xi told Biden that "for some time, due to the US policy on China, the China-US relationship has run into serious difficulty", and that the relationship "is not a multiple-answer question of whether we should have good relations, but a compulsory question of how", according to a Chinese readout of the conversation.

The White House said in a statement that during the 90-minute call made at the request of the US side, the two leaders "discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict".

"It's essential that the two leaders speak often and use their long personal relationship to resolve commercial and other disputes," said Douglas Barry, senior director of communications and publications at the US-China Business Council.

"The current impasse will not be resolved without their involvement," Barry told China Daily, adding, "That said, there needs to be engagement at many technical levels and more participation of the business communities."

Barry said more regular calls leading to face-to-face discussions are needed on possible topics, such as what happens with the Phase One trade agreement expiring at the end of the year; what's required of both countries to lift or reduce punitive tariffs; and what the plan is for cooperating on existential threats such as global warming and pandemics.

"The status quo will remain or deteriorate further unless the two presidents become more engaged and with a greater sense of urgency," he said.

The latest presidential phone call, following one in early February, was a culmination of interaction between China and the US since Biden took office in late January, after bilateral ties had plunged to the lowest point in four decades.

A senior Biden administration official said Biden initiated the call with Xi "to really have a broad and strategic discussion about how to manage the competition between the United States and China", according to US media reports.

"It's quite likely that engagement at the leader level is really what's needed to move the ball forward," National Public Radio quoted the unidentified official as saying on Friday.

In March, China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led teams for talks in Anchorage, Alaska, in which Yang rejected Washington assuming a "position of strength" in its approach to China.

At their Tianjin meeting in late July, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi marked out China's "three bottom lines" to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

The first bottom line is that the US must not challenge, slander or attempt to subvert the path and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The second is that the US must not attempt to obstruct or interrupt China's development process. The third is that the US must not infringe upon China's sovereignty or damage its territorial integrity.

In his talks with Sherman, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Xie Feng said that US policy seems to be demanding cooperation when it wants something from China; decoupling, cutting off supplies, blockading or sanctioning China when it believes it has an advantage; and resorting to conflict and confrontation at all costs.

Douglas Paal, distinguished fellow of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "I am hoping that someone on the US side realized that recent high-level interactions were going nowhere, or, more likely, downhill, and it was time to get the top leaders engaged."

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the phone call is "the best event" in a long time, which could signal a gradual de-escalation of tension.

"Both leaders have committed to reducing carbon emissions. At the November COP (Conference of the Parties), they can restate those commitments and lay out specific policies to reach carbon neutrality," Hufbauer said of the United Nations climate change conference to be held in Glasgow in November.

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