New strategy to counter rising US aggression
The presidents of China and the United States have held five rounds of talks on the phone since February 2021. The high frequency of direct communication at the head-of-state level reflects the great importance both sides attach to bilateral relations and their political will to maintain stable ties.
However, the phone talks have not been able to resolve the two sides' differences on major issues, and as a result, the chilly bilateral ties are yet to see any reversal.
Why, one may ask.
The news releases from the two sides after every round of talks reveal striking differences in the way the two countries think and act.
Different ways of thinking
When it comes to the way of thinking, Beijing's "world view" is completely different from Washington's "interests view".
In almost every phone conversation, President Xi Jinping has stressed the special international responsibilities China and the US shoulder as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the world's two largest economies.
During the last phone talks on July 28, President Xi said the global deficits in development and security are becoming increasingly prominent, and that China and the US should work together to cool down regional hotspot issues, and help the world contain the COVID-19 pandemic, emerge out of economic stagnation and avoid the risk of recession. These reflect the "world view", collective consciousness and altruism, which are part of traditional Chinese culture, as well as the basis of China's concept of a community with a shared future for mankind.
In contrast, US President Joe Biden focused more on specific issues of national interest, emphasizing the security, prosperity and values of the American people, and the need to work with allies and partners to address myriad challenges. This way of thinking is rooted in the concept of "nation state" and focuses on the pursuit of national interests, which leads to win-lose calculations and confrontations in international relations.
Win-win cooperation vs strategic competition
In terms of how they behave, China's approach to "resolving differences through cooperation" is markedly different from the US' approach of "strategic competition plus risk management". In his phone conversation with Biden in September 2021, Xi said that China-US relations are "not a question of whether to do well, but a question of how to do well".
China has set the direction of bilateral relations - of "doing well" - and to this end, it is more willing to focus on broad common interests and make the "pie" of cooperation bigger to achieve win-win results. As for differences and sensitive issues, China advocates they be managed and resolved through dialogue.
Different from China, the US insists on viewing bilateral ties through the lens of "strategic competition", which means the two countries will have to fight it out in the end. If both sides adopt a competitive approach to deal with each other, cooperation would hardly be the priority. Instead, issues such as human rights, tariffs, tracing of the origin of the novel coronavirus, and the Taiwan question would come out on top in the game.
And that is exactly what the US has been trying to do. In all the five rounds of phone talks, Biden tried to put pressure on the Chinese side by raising human rights, economic policy, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and other issues, while stressing the importance of managing risks and building "guardrails" to prevent "competition" from turning into "conflict".
Biden promises akin to risk-management
However, the promises Biden has made so far, namely the US does not seek a new Cold War with China, does not seek to change China's system, does not seek to strengthen alliance against China, does not support "Taiwan independence", and has no intention of triggering a conflict or confrontation with China, seem more like a risk-management tactic than a guiding principle for bilateral ties.
Among the differences between the two sides, the Taiwan question is the most sensitive and should be taken seriously. But the aggressive moves made by the US vis-à-vis this issue have been extremely provocative.
For example, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the third-highest ranking US leader, has violated the one-China policy which is the basis of Sino-US relations by making a stopover in Taiwan on Tuesday on way to the Republic of Korea. The political significance of her visit cannot be downplayed by citing excuses such as the "separation of the government and legislature" in the US, that is, the president or the government couldn't have stopped Pelosi from making the trip.
In the last phone conversation, Biden said he is strongly opposed to "unilateral efforts" to change the status quo across the Taiwan Straits. Isn't Pelosi trying to change the cross-Straits status quo by visiting the island? The US says one thing, its politicians do just the opposite.
Efforts should be made to resolve differences
If China and the US want to break the deadlock, they should acknowledge the differences in the way they think and work, and make necessary adjustments to them in order to improve bilateral ties.
The success of China's national construction and foreign policies in recent decades, especially its foreign policy toward the developing world, is inseparable from its traditional philosophical thinking. If US politicians can shed their arrogance, and try to understand and learn the Chinese way of thinking and doing things, the foundation of Sino-US ties will be strengthened.
China has gradually accepted the concepts of "nation state" and "national interest". In the process of integrating into the post-war international order, China has learned and adapted to international rules set by the US. And as China embarks on the journey of national rejuvenation, it is bound to adapt to the new "strategic competition" environment and continue to explore new development opportunities in the ever-changing external environment.
For now, at least, it appears the US has no intention of discussing with China the basic framework and rules of "strategic competition". The US' strategy toward China today consists of three parts - boosting its strength; uniting allies and making the external environment more unfavorable for China's development; and maintaining communication with China to prevent bilateral relations from veering into conflict.
Analyzing US policies, anticipating future moves
In view of this reality, China should hold extensive discussions on the US policy, focusing on topics such as: How to define the role of the US in the next stage of China's development? Should China engage in all-round competition with the US or should it compete only in key areas? What is the overall goal of China-US cooperation? Should China's policy toward the US focus on "win-win" or "win-lose"? How to manage the gap between China-US strategic competition and building a community with a shared future for mankind?
China also needs to formulate a new strategy toward the US. Carrying forward its pursuit of global common good, embracing diversity and emphasizing the spirit of "harmony", it should draw lessons from the way the US views competition and interests, and respond in the same way the US does against China.
The author is deputy director of, and an associate research fellow at, the Department for International and Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.