BEIJING (AP) – In a relationship as tense as the one between America and China, just an agreement that talks were productive was a sign of progress.
Nine months after Joe Biden’s presidency, the two sides finally seem to be trying to ease tensions stemming from the Trump administration – although U.S. complaints about China’s trade policy, Taiwan and other issues have barely abated.
A closed-door meeting in Zurich on Wednesday between senior Chinese foreign policy advisor Yang Jiechi and White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan was not accompanied by the public acuteness shown at previous meetings.
After the six-hour talks, the US announced a general agreement on a virtual summit meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping by the end of the year. The two have called twice since Biden took office in January, but have not held a formal meeting.
Great differences divide the most powerful nations in the world in many ways as they vie for their rightful place in the world order. Some differences in regional security and trade and technology may be incompatible, but successful talks could overcome them and prevent any spillover that hinders cooperation in other areas such as climate change.
“I don’t think this will mark the turning point and somehow we’re going to have a golden era, but maybe we’ve found the bottom, or a bottom where relations don’t sink any lower,” said Drew Thompson, a former US Defense official who said Managed military relations with China, Taiwan and Mongolia.
Thompson, a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore, said the Zurich meeting was “spectacular compared to a March meeting in Alaska attended by Yang and Sullivan and other US-China meetings over the past three years went well.
Describing the current direction as an attempt to ease tension, Zhao Kejin, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said a meeting with Xi-Biden could crown that effort.
“Compared to the strained relationships during the Trump administration, the current relationship is weakening,” he said. “How far it will go, we’ll wait and see.”
A thorn in the relationship was resolved two weeks ago when US prosecutors reached an agreement with a Chinese telecom executive that ended the lengthy extradition process in Canada and allowed her to return to China.
Shortly afterwards, two Canadians who had been detained by China for more than two years were released and two Americans who had been prevented from leaving China were allowed to return to the United States.
And earlier this week, Chinese state media highlighted statements by Biden’s chief trade representative, Katherine Tai, that she was planning open talks with her Chinese counterparts about resolving a tariff war. However, the US administration has not said whether it will comply with Chinese demands for the removal of tariffs imposed under former President Donald Trump.
There is little sign of loosening regional security where China’s territorial and strategic ambitions in the western Pacific face opposition from the US military and its allies.
China has flown a record number of military aircraft south of Taiwan in four days in the past week, which the US has described as risky and destabilizing. The flights came when the US and five other countries conducted joint naval maneuvers with three aircraft carriers northeast of Taiwan. China calls such exercises provocation.
The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is sensitive, and although the U.S. has no military bases on the island, U.S. special forces have been training with the Taiwanese military for more than a year, including sea operations with naval commandos for the past few weeks, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The training, which first appeared publicly last year, has not been officially recognized by the Department of Defense. But in a statement, Pentagon spokesman John Supple said Thursday that US military assistance to Taiwan “is based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and threats from China.”
US officials said the number of American special forces conducting the training fluctuated over time, but it was very small and recently stood at about two dozen. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations. The issue came to the fore on Thursday when it was described in a Wall Street Journal story.
Supple said China has stepped up efforts to intimidate and pressure Taiwan and other allies and partners, including increasing military activity near Taiwan, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, which we believe are destabilizing and that Increase the risk of misjudgment. ”
Biden is also under pressure from human rights activists and Republicans to maintain a firm line with China, even as his government seeks cooperation on climate change and leads North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
US Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and frequent critic, tweeted Wednesday that Biden was “dangerously delusional” in thinking he could reach a climate deal by downplaying “great power competition” with China.
Beijing residents were cautious about the future of relations, but some said it was better for the two sides to talk to each other than not. They blamed US hostility for the state of relations, repeating the position of the Chinese government.
“I don’t have a good impression of the US,” said He Taiqin. “I find the country arrogant and aggressive.”
Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang contributed to this report.
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