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Then US vice-president Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping raise a toast during a state lunch for China at the Department of State in Washington in September 2015. Photo: AFP

US-China relations: Meng Wanzhou’s return clears one roadblock to a reset

  • Release of Huawei boss tops the list of recent goodwill gestures from the Biden White House in response to Beijing’s list of demands
  • China may now be more open to visits by the US commerce and climate chiefs, and even consider a virtual Xi-Biden summit at the G20 in October, analysts say
China would be more amenable to a summit with the United States and a potential visit by the US commerce secretary, Chinese analysts said, as the Biden administration works through Beijing’s list of demands – including dropping the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou.
The release of the Huawei Technologies chief financial officer last week was the highlight of latest signs of goodwill from Washington that have raised expectations for the possibility of virtual talks between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit next month.
Meng, held in Vancouver since December 2018 at the request of the US – in a move that also sent China-Canada relations into a nosedive – flew back to Shenzhen on Saturday to a hero’s welcome.


Chinese netizens swoon over hero’s return and husband’s greeting for Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou

Chinese netizens swoon over hero’s return and husband’s greeting for Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou
Other conciliatory US gestures have included the dropping of visa fraud charges against Chinese researchers and the resumption of US visas for Chinese students after a pandemic-related lull. Analysts said China might respond with more official talks and potentially climate-related actions.
Indeed, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said last week that she hoped to lead American business delegations to China, and special climate envoy John Kerry voiced hopes of making a third visit to the country this year.


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The American moves follow Beijing’s issuance of a list of wrongdoings and another of key concerns to US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, when she visited Tianjin in July for meetings with senior Chinese diplomats. Addressing those issues were a prerequisite to course correction in the rocky bilateral relationship, China had said.
Action items on the list included the dropping of Meng’s extradition request, an end to visa rejections for some Chinese students, and the revocation of sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights concerns in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.


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US, UK, EU and Canada imposed sanctions ‘based on lies’, says China

Wei Zongyou, a professor at Fudan University’s Centre for American Studies, said Meng’s return to China would help cool tensions with the US, and was a key indicator of the Biden administration’s goodwill.

“This can be seen partially as a response to Beijing’s demands for the improvement of China-US relations,” Wei said.

“I believe Meng’s case is a signal that Biden’s government has the intention to improve relations or does not want relations to continue to deteriorate. Making this kind of decision requires a lot of determination, especially considering the current political atmosphere in the US.”

China rallies national pride by painting Meng as innocent victim of US

This in turn could see the Chinese side respond by allowing Raimondo to visit soon to resolve trade and economic issues, online meetings between the two sides at the October 30-31 Group of 20 summit in Rome, and greater cooperation on climate change, he said.
Meng received a rousing, nationalist welcome upon her return over the weekend after a three-year legal battle, which began when she was detained while in transit in Vancouver on December 1, 2018, following an extradition request by the US over fraud charges.
Two Canadian nationals detained in China shortly after Meng’s initial detention, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were also freed by Chinese courts directly after she was released, in a move widely seen as endorsement of the view that their cases were an act of retaliation from Beijing.


China rejects Canada’s accusation over ‘arbitrary detention’ of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

China rejects Canada’s accusation over ‘arbitrary detention’ of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

Speaking to his counterpart in Venezuela on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China was “not afraid of coercion”, and that those who “made up various excuses out of political considerations to arbitrarily detain citizens from other countries” were engaged in bullying.

Meng’s case fuelled a wave of nationalistic sentiment in China against what was seen as US suppression of Chinese companies, given her high-profile status as the daughter of Huawei’s founder.

But while Chinese officials in recent months have consistently repeated the need for the US to address the two lists it gave to Sherman in Tianjin, US observers have been critical of the seemingly unilateral concessions that Washington has made.


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US, UK, Australia announce ‘historic’ military partnership in Pacific
Washington has, however, simultaneously continued to raise concerns about China in the Indo-Pacific, including with its announcement of a new military partnership with Australia and Britain targeted towards China.

Xi and Biden spoke over the phone in early September, with both leaders seeking to address ways to “responsibly manage the competition” between them and to bring relations “back to the right track of stable development as soon as possible”, according to statements from both sides.

Lu Xiang, a research fellow in US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the two countries could kick-start economic and trade dialogues in the fourth quarter, including potentially with Raimondo, and that Kerry might also be given greater flexibility in the scope of his talks in China beyond climate.


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US, China put aside differences for pledge to work together on climate change

“Meng Wanzhou’s return home is a sign of easing tensions, although Biden should have resolved this issue even earlier,” he said. “The US’ strength is not what it was before, and it needs to think it over when it comes to engaging in long-term conflict and protracted tensions.

“China and the US have their differences, but as soon as there is engagement between the two sides, then it is really like climbing step by step up the ladder of bilateral relations.”

China halts new coal-fired power plants abroad in boost for climate action

A Beijing-based professor, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to foreign media, said the Chinese side might now be willing to work out a meeting between Xi and Biden, and might extend some concessions in areas such as climate change.

“[Meng’s case] can be seen as the US extending goodwill, and China will also reciprocate and respond in good faith, including by considering a summit meeting between the two leaders at the G20,” he said.

“But this does not mean that China-US relations will be rebooted, as the US will not easily make concessions on the removal of sanctions [that is] on China’s lists of demands.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing ‘more open’ to US talks now after Meng’s return