China’s demands to US: starting point to ease tensions or a path to more conflict?
- Lists of ‘wrongdoings’ and ‘grave concerns’ given to visiting deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman
- Analyst says some of the issues are ‘low-hanging fruit’ and concessions could be made
They say it could be a starting point to improve the fraught relationship, but it could also lead to more conflict if the demands go unmet.
Chinese analysts say some of Xie’s demands are doable for the US – “low-hanging fruit” like relaxing media and visa restrictions – but it will come down to political will.
Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said while there may not be much room for concessions from either side on strategic issues and principles, there are specific issues where goodwill gestures could be made.
“It’s like [the Deng Xiaoping saying] crossing the river by feeling the stones – if you make a concession, then I can make a concession,” Liu said. “Both sides can now evaluate the other’s requests … and for at least some of the issues we could see some concessions.”
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Liu said the Alaska talks had been “more about posturing” but the Tianjin meeting was a chance to “actually resolve some issues, so the expectations going in were already different”.
“I’m cautiously optimistic since the two sides appeared more practical in their attitudes and more low-profile – not just trying to prevail over the other but with a foundation to actually resolve the serious issues,” he said.
Sherman’s visit to China was confirmed only days before, as the US sought a higher-level meeting with a member of President Xi Jinping’s inner circle. She travelled to Tianjin after stops in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia, and after the US imposed fresh sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong.
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Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert at Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said the two sides now had a starting point to try to ease tensions.
“Optimistically speaking, the countries can start from something smaller or more practical … for example, relaxing visa restrictions on Chinese students and Chinese companies going to the US,” Pang said, noting that such steps would take some time. “Pessimistically speaking, if the two countries can’t even achieve this sort of demand, it could mean even more conflict.”
But Drew Thompson, a former US Defence Department official who managed relations with China, Taiwan and Mongolia, said Beijing’s demands suggested it wanted Washington to reverse its policies and actions “without offering anything tangible in return”.
“Without prospects for concession or cooperation, the primary objective for Washington has turned to deepening understanding of China’s positions, reducing the potential for misperception, and avoiding miscalculation that could lead to outright conflict.”
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan