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Decoding the ‘Positive Signal’ in China-US Relations 

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China Power | Diplomacy | East Asia

Decoding the ‘Positive Signal’ in China-US Relations 

Amid several simultaneous humanitarian crises, finding a China-U.S. modus vivendi could not be more urgent.

Decoding the ‘Positive Signal’ in China-US Relations 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Department of State, Oct. 26, 2023.

Credit: U.S. State Department photo

The global landscape today is punctuated by profound shifts, and at the forefront of these changes are China and the United States. Their interactions, negotiations, and disputes not only define their bilateral relationship, but shape the contours of global geopolitics. Historically, these two nations have vacillated between collaboration and confrontation, with recent times seeing a deepening trade war, differences in handling North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and ideological battles over human rights and governance systems.

In an era marked by a crescendo of geopolitical uncertainties, the international community has keenly observed the unfolding dynamics between these two Goliaths. There is a recognition that a cooperative China-U.S relationship is crucial for global stability, but achieving this amid myriad differences is a monumental task.

Against this backdrop, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s allusion to a “positive signal” during his recent visit to Washington, D.C., ignited global discourse. This wasn’t just about China and the U.S.; it was an indicator of the broader pulse of global geopolitics. Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen’s plea for China and the U.S. to reduce tensions in their relationship aptly captured the prevailing sentiment in the Asia-Pacific region, echoing the concerns and hopes of many other nations. The anticipation is just for an ascendant China to act responsibly, and for the United States to respond judiciously, ensuring the two can find a modus vivendi that ensures regional peace.

The Xiangshan Forum, where Ng made his comments, shed light on shifting alliances, notably the burgeoning camaraderie between Russia and China in the face of Western opposition to Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. The reception accorded to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and statements by Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Zhang Youxia symbolized this partnership’s deepening roots. These developments suggest that China and Russia may be angling to forge a united front on critical global issues. 

Should China and the United States find common ground on contentious issues like Ukraine or Palestine, it would thus mark a geopolitical watershed. Such a consensus could signal the emergence of bipolar world order, a return to the “spheres of influence” seen during the Cold War. Wang Yi’s mention of a “positive signal” could foreshadow this new geopolitical landscape.

China and the United States have been at loggerheads over various issues in recent years: the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade imbalances, technology wars, Taiwan, and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Michael Swaine, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, stated at the Xiangshan Forum that the Asia-Pacific security environment and prospect for peaceful development are now facing stronger threats due to increasing negative interactions between China and the United States. Swaine suggested that genuine dialogue between the two nations, supported by other regional players, is pivotal to reducing these tensions, especially concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea.

While immediate crises demand attention, a broader view of international politics reveals concerted efforts by both China and the United States to prevent further escalation in conflict zones. Their recent commitment to dialogue, despite numerous unresolved disputes, underscores a shared understanding that unbridled conflict could be catastrophic. Yet, the geopolitical narrative is not one-dimensional. Even as these superpowers engage in diplomacy, they fiercely protect their unique geopolitical positions, evident in their differing stances on the South China Sea and U.S. military alliances in the Asia-Pacific. 

Meanwhile, countries like Singapore are assertively advancing their own interests, refusing to be sidelined in a Sino-U.S.-centric world. While signs point toward a budding bipolar world order, the geopolitical fabric also hints at a shift toward a multipolar world. 

In this context, Wang’ emphasis on “equality and mutual respect” gains prominence. It’s a recognition that the intricacies of modern geopolitics necessitate the cooperation of multiple nations, not just a binary power dynamic.

When global superpowers spar, it’s often the common people who bear the brunt, underscoring the need for a robust international mechanism to address such challenges. In this light, the United Nations’ role in the present geopolitical climate is critical. 

Its intervention, as seen in the case of Gaza, is about mitigating human suffering and ensuring that global powers act responsibly. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ call to action underscores the importance of a collective response. “Everyone must assume their responsibilities. This is a moment of truth,” he stated. “History will judge us all.” 

Guterres’ powerful statement resonates deeply with the world. As Israel intensifies its bombardment in Gaza, severing nearly 2.3 million people from communication with the outside world, the international community’s response becomes a litmus test for our collective conscience and capacity for empathy. 

The international arena is at a pivotal crossroads. The trajectory of China-U.S. relations will undeniably define the 21st century. Their collaboration or confrontation will not just be about these two countries, but will decide the fate of the world’s peace, economy, and progress. With the impending summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, the world is not just a spectator but an anxious stakeholder, hoping for decisions that prioritize humanity over hegemony. The shared aspiration is for these superpowers to recognize their roles, not just as national leaders but as custodians of global stability and peace. 

The “positive signal” from Sino-U.S. relations offers a glimmer of hope, but its implications are far-reaching and complex. While the immediate future may witness a bipolar world with China and the United States at the helm, the unpredictable nature of international politics also leaves room for a more nuanced, multipolar world order.