Written by K J M Varma
In its first contact with the Biden administration, China on Saturday asked the US to rectify the “mistakes” of former President Donald Trump’s aggressive policies towards Beijing and flagged Taiwan as the most important and sensitive core issue for it.
China resents US support for Taiwan, which Beijing views as a rebel province that must be reunified with the mainland, even by force.
During his tenure, Trump pushed aggressively on all aspects of US-China ties, including with his relentless trade war, challenging China’s military hold on the disputed South China Sea, its constant threats to Taiwan, the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, branding coronavirus as “China virus” after it emerged from Wuhan in December 2019 as well as Xinjiang and Tibet issues.
Newly-appointed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Saturday held what observers here say as blunt and outspoken conversation over the phone during which both sides sought to highlight the issues of concerns that will shape the ties between the top two economies of the world in the next four years.
Yang, a member of the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of China and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC, is Beijing’s point man for Washington.
While Blinken told Yang that the Biden administration will hold China accountable for its abuses of the international system and raised with him the issue of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong and Myanmar, the Chinese diplomat said both sides should respect each other’s core interests and choices of political system.
Yang said the US “should rectify its mistakes made over a period of time,” in an apparent reference to hardline policies pursued by the Trump administration towards China, pushing the ties between the two countries to a new low.
He said the US should work with China to uphold the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
The Taiwan question, the most important and sensitive core issue in China-US relations, bears on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Yang as telling Blinken.
China considers Taiwan as part of its mainland and apprehends that the US is stepping its engagement with Taipei with military and political assistance.
The US should strictly abide by the one-China principle, Yang said, adding that Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet-related affairs are all China’s internal affairs and allow no interference by any external forces.
Any attempt to slander and smear China will not succeed, and China will continue to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests, Yang said.
He urged the US to play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region involving the disputed South China Sea, where America looks to step up its engagement with allies to contain Beijing.
China claims almost all of the 1.3 million square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
On the Myanmar coup, Blinken and Yang presented different views.
While Blinken condemned the military coup in Myanmar and threatened sanctions against the military government, Yang stressed that the international community should create an enabling external environment for the proper settlement of the Myanmar issue.
Yang pointed out that all countries in the world should safeguard the international system with the United Nations at its core and not pursue a rules-based international order championed by a few countries.
On Thursday, Biden in his first foreign policy speech flagged a twin policy approach of confrontation with Beijing on challenges it posed and cooperation to further American interests.
Biden described China as the “most serious competitor” to the US and vowed to confront Beijing on various fronts, including human rights, intellectual property and economic policy.
“But we are ready to work with Beijing when it is in America’s interest to do so,” he said.
Commenting on Biden’s speech, a report in the state-run Global Times said, “Chinese scholars found the speech a little bland with no new eye-catching expressions.”
“Biden conveyed a clearer perspective on certain issues other than on China issues, proving that the new administration is still unready to make a clear China policy,” it said.
Biden mentioned China or Beijing six times in his speech but only one sentence about cooperation, with the rest all about competition and threat, the report said.
From the speech we can understand the “most serious competitor” is a basic and common consensus regarding China among US decision-makers, and US concerns over China are much greater and clearer than intentions to cooperate, the report quoted Diao Daming, an expert on US studies at the Renmin University of China, as saying.