Photo’s Source: www.japantimes.co.jp, Meeting between the representatives of the US and China
From January 26 to 27, 2024, the Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, held a new round of meetings with the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, in Bangkok. During the talks, the two sides agreed to jointly implement the San Francisco vision, agreed upon by President Xi and President Biden, and carry out further discussions on the boundaries between national security and economic activities. In addition, they discussed regional and international issues and crises, including the Middle East, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.
This article is meant to analyze the latest meeting between Wang Yi and Jack Sullivan, by taking into account the purpose of the meeting and its significance on solving Middle East problems, while also illustrating the area on which consensus has not yet been reached.
The purpose of the present meeting and the thawing of the relationship between the two countries
In 2024, it is the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US, and also the year of the American presidential and congressional elections. Judging from the recent trend of increasing high-level interaction between China and the United States, the two sides hope to seize the opportunity and do their best to add more certainty and constructiveness to Sino-American relations in a turbulent world. After the San Francisco meeting between the Chinese and US leaders, this meeting was seen as “another sign” of the thaw in relations between the two countries. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the strategic communication as “candid, substantive and fruitful”, while the White House briefing also described it as “candid, substantive and constructive.” The meeting was indeed “fruitful”.
This meeting can be regarded as a practice of implementing the ‘San Francisco vision’. Since the meeting between the two heads of state in November 2023, the mechanism of dialogue between the two actors, which had been neglected since 2021, has received renewed attention. Dialogues in various areas, including finance, trade and economy, strategy, and even military, were gradually carried out this year.
During the Bangkok reunion, both sides demonstrated a relatively positive intention to further implement the consensus of the Chinese and American heads of state in San Francisco. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, both sides agreed to jointly implement the “San Francisco Vision”: the heads of state of the two countries will maintain regular contacts and provide strategic guidance for bilateral relations; promote exchanges between China and the United States at all levels and in all fields, and make good use of the current strategic communication channels and a series of dialogue and consultation mechanisms in the fields of diplomacy, military, economy, finance, commerce, climate change; continue to discuss the guiding principles of China-US relations; start the China-US Drug Control Cooperation Working Group in the near future; hold the first meeting of the China-US Intergovernmental Dialogue Mechanism on Artificial Intelligence this spring; and take further measures to expand human-oriented exchanges between the two countries. Also, both sides agreed to further discuss the boundaries between national security and economic activities.
The meeting between Wang Yi and Sullivan in Bangkok, which was “candid, substantive, and fruitful”, helped both China and the US accurately grasp each other’s positions and concerns, reduce misunderstandings and misjudgments, and promote greater communication and coordination in areas of common interest, as well as explore paths of cooperation. As part of the US-China high-level dialogue mechanism, the meeting also signaled that under the current uncertain international environment, the two influential powers are willing to substantively strengthen communication and cooperation with each other to resolve major international issues and restore bilateral relations, despite the differences in value.
History of the meeting
During the meeting, Sullivan recalled his three long “low-key talks” with Wang in third countries. He said that with each round of dialogue, the two sides have gradually reached a point where they can put aside the script and have a real strategic dialogue.
In May 2023, the two men talked for two days in Vienna in an attempt to restore some normalcy to relations between the two countries. At that time, they agreed on a rough route for high-level engagement, building on the Bali meeting and leading to a meeting in San Francisco later in 2023. Over the next few months, several Biden cabinets visited China. The purpose of this intensive diplomacy was not to mend fences, but to resolve the thorny issues of the day.
In September 2023, the two met again in Malta to chart a course for the San Francisco meeting. In the following weeks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a bipartisan delegation to China, and senior Chinese officials also visited the United States. This includes the third bilateral meeting between Sullivan and Wang Yi in Washington in November 2023. All these meetings are paving the way for the San Francisco meeting.
In January 2024, the two met in Bangkok, this time to advance the three outcomes of the San Francisco meeting: anti-drug cooperation, military-to-military exchanges, and artificial intelligence dialogue.
Maintaining regional and international stability
Both sides had full communication on some international and regional issues, including the Middle East, Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea, and more. Although their positions were not entirely aligned, they also achieved some consensus.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis, is still ongoing, and the crisis in the Red Sea has revealed the global impact of this conflict in the Middle East. In addition, the US military strike against the Houthis in Yemen has the potential to escalate regional tensions. Thus, the US hopes that China will play a greater role. The waters of the Red Sea are important international trade routes for goods and energy, and promoting de-escalation is in the common interest of both China and the United States.
Furthermore, maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea faces greater challenges this year, and China and the United States need to strengthen communication to prevent war and chaos in the Asia-Pacific region.
With frequent global security hotspots, escalating geopolitical conflicts, and intertwined traditional and non-traditional security challenges, China and the United States need to strengthen communication, work together, and jointly assume the responsibility of major powers to maintain world peace and stability.
The particular significance of the meeting on the Middle East issues
Concerning the matters in the Middle East, prior to the meeting between the senior officials of China and the United States, each side had already respectively made efforts to resolve the Middle East issues in areas where it could. China, for its part, has not only sent special envoys to engage in a mediation effort among Middle East countries last year, but has also taken a neutral stance in the recent Red Sea conflict, calling on all parties to exercise restraint. On the other side, the US has maintained communication with Israel, by discussing the specifics of the two-state solution, even though the Israeli government has claimed on several occasions that it rejects the two-state solution.
Based on the above, it can be concluded that the roles of China and the United States in this Middle East affairs are different, and neither party can solve this Middle East problem independently, so the meeting is necessary to help the two countries solve the Middle East problems together. In the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the conflicts caused by its spillover effects, the US is not only a supporter of one of the actors in the conflict, but also a direct participant in some of the events, while China is a third party with influence to a greater extent. Therefore, the actions of the participants have a direct impact on the resolution of the issue, but under the current deadlock, only an influential third party is capable of making appropriate statements, taking into account the interests of both sides and creating conditions for avoiding the further expansion of the dispute or even settling it. As such, through this meeting, China and the US will be able to make their intentions and further plans known to each other, so that both sides can take more reasonable actions in the subsequent international interaction platform.
The Taiwan issue as a focus
During the meeting in Bangkok, Wang Yi emphasized that the Taiwan issue is China’s internal affairs, and the elections in Taiwan cannot change the basic fact that Taiwan is a part of China. The biggest risk to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is “Taiwan’s independence”, and the biggest challenge to China-US relations is also the same matter. In these conditions, the US should adhere to the One China Principle and the three China-US joint communiqués implement its commitment to not supporting “Taiwan’s independence” into action, and support China’s peaceful reunification.
Rosenberg, the Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, has also emphasized on multiple occasions that the US does not support “Taiwan’s independence”. These actions reflect the Biden administration’s efforts to ease tensions in the Taiwan Strait. However, before this meeting, a bipartisan delegation from the US Congress visited Taiwan and met with leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party authorities, and a US warship also conducted a “transit” through the Taiwan Strait not long ago. Although, judging from the evaluations of both sides, this meeting should have achieved the goal of enhancing strategic communication, it needs to be noted that the Taiwan issue will continue to be a focus of the struggle between China and the US.
As mentioned before, this year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. The China-US Bangkok meeting took this opportunity to summarize experiences and learn lessons. As Wang Yi said, the correct way for China and the US to get along should be to “treat each other as equals rather than condescendingly, seek common ground while reserving differences rather than highlighting difference, truly respect rather than harm each other’s core interests, and jointly commit to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation.”
An important area with no reached consensus
Still, comparing the announcements made by the two countries following the meeting, the two sides differently defined their relationship, which may affect how two actors interact in international events. The US officials note that China and the US are in competition, although they point out that the avoidance of conflict escalation is necessary. China, on the contrary, emphasizes cooperation and seeks common ground, while reserving differences.
The difference between these two sides’ attitudes will not only affect the implementation of the San Francisco vision, but also lead to key issues not being addressed. For example, in the case of the UNSC meeting over the resolution on the Red Sea attacks on January 10th, the US has shown itself to be relatively more interested in pursuing its particular interests in the Middle East, even though it might make the other side in the conflict more reluctant to comply with UN resolutions. While China seeks to move forward with a resolution of the issue so that it might not veto proposals of an urgent nature with some critical issues unresolved and, thus, more agendas will be set to discuss them, which might slow down the process of conflict resolution.
The significance of the meeting for further bilateral cooperation
Overall, during this meeting, the two sides exchanged frank views on the implementation of the consensus reached by the two heads of state at their meeting in San Francisco, held substantive discussions on major and sensitive issues of China-United States relations, and achieved fruitful strategic communication.
Sullivan, a senior US government official, made a rare admission of the US failure in handling relations with China after his Bangkok trip. Speaking at an event at the US think tank “Institute of Foreign Relations”, he said that the US has not succeeded in its efforts to change China in recent decades. Looking ahead, China’s position on the global stage will become increasingly important, and the economic interdependence between the two countries will be further strengthened. Despite the rivalry, both sides must find the right way to coexist.
2024 will be an election year in the US, and the Biden administration will take a series of measures to actively promote the stable development of the US-China relationship. Sullivan predicts the possible initiatives:
- US will continue to take action on divisive issues, such as human rights, and remain vigilant on Sino-Russian relations, taking the necessary measures to respond.
- US will work closely with allies and partners to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait.
- US will continue to interact and cooperate closely with China in areas where its interests coincide.
The Biden administration has expressed no intention to rebuild outdated structures and mechanisms from past bilateral relations, while Sullivan has recognized the value of working-level consultations, such as counter-narcotics cooperation. Going forward, the two sides will continue to deepen crisis communication mechanisms to reduce the risk of conflict and coordinate in areas that pose risks, such as climate, health and safety, macroeconomic stability, and artificial intelligence. The United States also looks forward to discussions with China on a wide range of topics, from the Red Sea to the Korean Peninsula.
As Sullivan notes, the US strategy of trying to change China or contain it is doomed to failure. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had long given clear answers about the right way for the two countries to get along, but the United States has been pretending not to understand. However, time will eventually prove that open and inclusive multilateralism is more permanent than hegemonic unilateralism. China will shoulder the responsibility of a great country and push forward the great cause of building a community of human destiny. Clearly, peaceful coexistence and openness and inclusiveness have always been the core principles of China’s diplomacy.
Overall, this meeting can be seen as an effective high-level strategic dialogue between the two sides to implement the San Francisco vision. Through this meeting, the two were able to clarify each other’s viewpoints, reduce the limitation of their respective roles, and further contribute to the resolution of current international issues, especially in the Middle East region. However, we can also see that China and the US do not share the same definition of their relationship, which might slow down the pace of the problem-solving process.
About the author:
Mrs. Jun Qiao is student at the Anhui University, China, Mr. Mingxuan Huang is student at the Yunnan University, and Mrs. Yitong Li is student at the Hainan University, China. They are interns at MEPEI.