Things to do and not to do to stabilize Sino-US ties

2021-01-12 12:06:44

MA XUEJING/CHINA DAILY US President Donald Trump has altered the almost four-decade-old framework for Sino-US relationship, thanks to his "America first" and anti-China policies, and turned it from one of engagement and cooperation to one of strategic competition. As a result, bilateral ties have been in a free fall over the past couple of years. Nobody knows when and how the free fall will stop, and which direction Sino-US ties will take, which has left many observers wondering whether the deteriorating bilateral relationship will lead to a military conflict between China and the United States over the Taiwan question or the South China Sea issue. But with Joe Biden taking over as US president just over a week, the two countries may pause and rethink their policies, and adopt some damage-control measures, and thus turn a new page in bilateral relations. It is highly likely that domestic issues will top the incoming Biden administration's political agenda, but that does not necessarily mean one or both sides cannot take some measures in the short term to stabilize bilateral relations. Such measures can be categorized into to-do and not-to-do lists. First, the two sides should not take any actions that could intensify the war of words. The war of words that started with the Sino-US trade disputes in 2018 has spread to almost every bilateral dispute toward the fag end of Trump's presidency. And not surprisingly, instead of resolving the disputes, the war of words has poisoned the atmosphere for bilateral relations. So stopping the war of words could and should be the top priority of the two sides after Trump leaves the White House. Second, the two countries should not take any more actions that could further jeopardize educational exchanges. The US National Security Strategy Report 2017 said Washington "will consider restrictions on foreign STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students from designated countries" and, according to some media reports, top White House aide Stephen Miller once tried to persuade Trump to cancel all student visas for Chinese nationals. Over the past almost four years, the US administration has taken restrictive and punitive measures not only against Chinese scholars and students but also Chinese high-tech companies. But since educational exchanges are an important part of people-to-people exchanges, which promote mutual understanding and make bilateral ties more resilient, it is neither fair nor justifiable for the US to target students. And third, the two sides should not take any further actions against media outlets and journalists. The Trump administration has especially targeted Chinese media outlets and journalists, with China being forced to respond in kind. But such actions and reactions are not conducive to facilitating mutual understanding. Instead, they could worsen bilateral relations. On the other hand, the two countries need to take certain measures to prevent bilateral ties from deteriorating further. To start with, they should reopen the official communication channels. The Trump administration has closed almost all bilateral communication channels, arguing that such dialogues are not result-oriented. The fact is that although dialogues themselves cannot resolve disputes immediately, they could improve mutual understanding and address each other's concerns, ultimately leading to possible solutions. Besides, this is the time for the two sides to jointly assess the possibility of working together to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. China and the US had a good record of cooperation in the fight against epidemics since the early 2000s, but Trump reduced the number of personnel in the Beijing offices of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Health, and closed the National Science Foundation's office entirely, bringing Sino-US cooperation on combating diseases to a halt. But since China has always been willing to work with the US, Biden should revive the cooperation to boost the global fight against the pandemic. This is also the right time to jointly assess the possibility of the two countries coordinating and cooperating to meet other global challenges, such as nuclear proliferation and climate change. Biden has said that after he assumes office the US will return to the Paris Agreement-and the Iran nuclear deal provided Teheran abides all the conditions of the deal. Beijing and Washington can certainly work together on these issues of common interests. Moreover, the Trump administration's confrontational policy toward China has caused chaos which neither side has benefited from. So it is time the US changed its tack and returned to diplomacy and dialogue to meet the common and global challenges. The items on the to-do and not-to-do lists are not politically sensitive, yet they are important steps that should be taken to stabilize bilateral relations. The author is a senior fellow at the Institute for International Strategic Studies, Party School of the CPC Central Committee. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.