China, US back at negotiating table, but their detente has limits: Report

President Joe Biden. (IANS/Twitter:@POTUS)

New York City [US], February 2 (ANI): China and the United States have reengaged in diplomatic discussions, yet the prospects for substantial agreement remain uncertain, The New York Times (NYT) reported.
In recent meetings, China’s top diplomat in Bangkok addressed North Korea and Iran with President Biden’s national security adviser, while officials in Beijing resumed long-stalled talks on controlling the flow of fentanyl to the United States. The White House has also indicated that President Biden plans to speak with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in the coming spring.
These developments reflect a tentative detente reached between President Biden and President Xi during a summit near San Francisco in November. However, the unfolding diplomatic engagements underscore both the potential and limitations of this thaw in relations. As the two global powers navigate through frictions, the central challenge lies in defining the nature of their relationship, the NYT report added.
The Biden administration characterises the China-US relationship as one of strategic competition, emphasising the importance of these meetings to prevent the rivalry from escalating into conflict. Conversely, Chinese officials reject this framing, interpreting competition as a veiled strategy for containment. In diplomatic exchanges, they advocate for the “San Francisco Vision,” asserting that President Xi and President Biden agreed at the summit to stabilise relations and set aside competitive dynamics.
The disparity in rhetoric reveals the fragility of the ongoing reset, particularly in an election year where President Biden faces pressure to adopt a tough stance on China. Simultaneously, concerns mount over warnings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about escalating plans by Chinese hackers to infiltrate US infrastructure in the event of a conflict.
For President Biden, the talks on fentanyl in Beijing represent one of the few tangible outcomes from the San Francisco summit. China, a primary source of chemicals used in fentanyl production, has been a target of US efforts to restrict exports of these precursor chemicals. The resumption of talks on fentanyl came after Washington agreed in November to lift sanctions on a forensics institute run by China’s Ministry of Public Security. The institute had been placed on a trade blacklist in 2020, accused of complicity in abuses against ethnic minorities, the NYT report added.
China has also taken steps to ease tensions in other areas. In December, talks between the two countries’ militaries restarted, addressing concerns about accidental conflicts in contested regions such as the East China Sea and South China Sea. Additionally, discussions are anticipated on mitigating the risks associated with artificial intelligence technology.
Such diplomatic efforts by China aim to portray the country as a responsible global player, contributing to the stabilisation of international relations.
“If China and the United States increase their cooperation in international affairs, it may make Washington realise Chinese international influence can be constructive and helpful to U.S. interests,” said Wu Xinbo, the dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
However, the impact of this rapprochement may be limited to complex geopolitical issues such as the Middle East crisis and tensions on the Korean Peninsula. China’s substantial influence over Iran and North Korea, two heavily sanctioned nations, is crucial. Yet, China’s priorities include preserving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime as a buffer against US troops in South Korea, making Beijing cautious about exerting too much pressure on Pyongyang.
Regarding the Red Sea, China’s interests in the region, driven by significant investments in logistics and energy, require a delicate balancing act. While Beijing seeks to reduce tensions, it must also avoid alienating Iran, given its bid to court Middle Eastern countries and maintain a neutral stance amid regional conflicts.
China’s recent rhetoric emphasises its desire to negotiate with the United States on equal terms. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged mutual respect, stating that the nations should treat each other as “equals rather than being condescending.” The White House has indicated plans for a phone call between President Biden and President Xi, yet China has not confirmed such a proposal.
Chinese propaganda outlets, including the Communist Party newspaper Global Times, underscore the importance of the United States appreciating China’s goodwill. Despite the cooperative tone, China maintains its independent stance, emphasising reciprocity in negotiations, NYT reported.
However, Beijing faces risks of inaction. While positioning itself as a global peacemaker, China has been unable to rein in allies like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan involved in volatile conflicts. Sheena Greitens, a political scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, warns that if China cannot prevent its allies from conflicting, its narrative of being a stabilising force in global security may face credibility challenges.
Ultimately, the detente between China and the United States may serve as a strategic pause for China to navigate domestic economic challenges. Danny Russel, a vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, notes that the easing of tensions with Washington allows President Xi to focus on addressing economic issues, without compromising on nonnegotiable matters like Taiwan and the Communist Party’s rule. The tactical pause, as Russel suggests, should not be mistaken for a softening of China’s resolve on core interests, The New York Times reported.

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