This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China’s call on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to draw a line under the tensions of the Trump era and reboot ties is unlikely to gain traction in Washington, analysts told RFA.
Last Monday, foreign minister Wang Yi called for the United States and China to repair damaged bilateral relations.
But he also called on Washington to stop “smearing” the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs, and to dial back its support for the democratic island of Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
“Over the past few years, the United States basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels,” Wang said.
“We stand ready to have candid communication with the U.S. side, and engage in dialogues aimed at solving problems,” he said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price responded by saying that Beijing has a tendency to “avert blame” for its failure to honor international agreements and its human rights abuses.
Price also referred to a lack of transparency and “predatory economic practices” on the part of the Chinese government.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. shifted its policy of engagement with China to one of “strong competition,” and the Biden administration has endorsed this approach, as well as the previous administration’s finding that the CCP is engaging in genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
Wang’s call for improved cooperation also comes at a time of broad bipartisan support in Congress for tougher policies on China’s human rights abuses.
“The Chinese government must know that the world is watching its strangulation of human rights – and that we must put all options on the table for holding China accountable,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday, commenting on China’s crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition in Hong Kong.
A clearer understanding of the CCP
Xia Ming, a professor of political science at New York’s City University, said that while Biden had promised to mend diplomatic relationships left damaged by the Trump administration, he hadn’t been referring to the relationship with Beijing.
“Everyone is agreed that we all gained a deeper and clearer understanding of the nature of the CCP and the regime under [CCP general secretary] Xi Jinping during the four years of Trump’s term,” Xia said.
“The Biden administration has not overturned that assessment; there is quite a bit of consensus on most major issues,” he said. “China’s expectations aren’t going to be met.”
Biden warned on Feb. 17 that China will face “repercussions” if it continues to perpetrate human rights abuses against its people, including against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where Washington has said authorities are carrying out genocide and crimes against humanity.
Miles Yu, a former China adviser to the Trump administration, said the CCP is being disingenuous when it calls on other countries to respect its core interests and “red lines” regarding Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang.
China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan in a bid to force “unification” on its 23 million people, and requires its diplomatic partners to shun the country internationally.
It routinely attacks criticism of its human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the political crackdown in Hong Kong as interference in its internal affairs, blaming “hostile foreign forces” for a string of mass protest movements in the city in recent years.
“What China is saying may sound good, but they are doing terrible things at the same time,” Yu told RFA. “The Chinese government has no red lines at all when it comes to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. It has no scruples.”
“On the face of it, this idea of China’s red lines is very plausible, but they don’t actually mean anything by it,” he said.
Complying with international norms
Yu said CCP-sponsored commercial spying and hacking, its lack of transparency during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and its overseas influence operations can’t be construed as its “internal affairs.”
“Neither the large-scale theft of U.S. commercial secrets, the way Beijing prevented the countries hit by the pandemic and the international community from investigating the origins of the coronavirus, nor its pursuit of pro-democracy activists outside China can be considered China’s internal affairs,” Yu said.
“If the Chinese government wants other countries to respect its interests, it must first comply with international law,” he said. “It should base its actions in neighboring countries and the rest of the world on international norms.”
“Their idea [of respect] is to have the international community turn a blind eye to its violations of international standards,” Yu said.
“If the Chinese government doesn’t come to terms with how conflicted its diplomatic policy is, it will end up in conflict not just with the U.S., but with the entire western world,” he said. “That’s going to be hard to avoid without some kind of progress in China itself.”
“More than half of the countries in the world are democracies that treat international law the same as domestic law, so that’s a lot of international norms that China is flouting.”
The Biden administration has also said it will continue to promote policies supporting human rights for Tibetans living under Chinese rule, working with allies to press Beijing to engage in dialogue with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and supporting “meaningful autonomy” for Tibetans.
And Secretary of State Antony Blinken has welcomed moves by the Trump administration to remove curbs on official contacts with Taiwan, although analysts said it remains to be seen whether the new administration will continue to move in the direction of greater recognition for the Taiwanese government.