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  • by Smriti Mathur
  • Feb 08, 2023
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China Politics U.S.-China Relations Just Got More Fragile


Key Takeaways:

Any prospective future detente will be similarly subject to rupture by domestic political dynamics, according to Gabriel Wildau, the Managing Director at Teneo, in a memo. "The budding U.S.-China detente has already entered a condition of severe degeneration, if not utterly extinct.

  • The United States Department of Defense announced that a fighter aircraft belonging to the U.S. Over the course of the weekend, the Air Force shot a suspected Chinese sabotage balloon down. The Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China both swiftly denounced the action, describing it as a "extreme reaction.

The U.S.-China relationship, once seen as a symbol of cooperation between two global superpowers, is now in a state of unprecedented fragility. As both nations grapple with their own domestic challenges and geopolitical interests, the ramifications of this deterioration are far-reaching and have significant implications for the international community.

Recent reports indicate that trade between the two countries has declined significantly, with the volume of goods exchanged falling by over 15% in the last year alone. Tariffs and limitations on technological transfers have done nothing but stoke the flames, and there are no immediate indicators that things will get better.

The consequences of a further breakdown in U.S.-China relations could be severe, affecting everything from global trade patterns and economic growth to international security and diplomacy. It is crucial that they find a way to cooperate and resolve the issues affecting their relationship as both countries try to assert their influence on the global stage. It is necessary for the international community to remain stable and prosperous in the future.

After a now-downed Chinese balloon compelled U.S.Commentators assert that the relationship between the two nations is deteriorating, forcing Secretary of State Antony Blinken to indefinitely postpone his trip to Beijing.

Observers highlighted that the high level of public attention restricts how far governments may go in search of symbols of stability, despite the fact that the alleged surveillance balloon posed a little real threat. About three months ago, when Blinken's trip to China was initially publicised, the presidents of the two nations finally had their first face-to-face encounter.


According to Gabriel Wildau, managing director at Teneo, "the embryonic US-China détente is currently in critical condition, if not fully dead, and any future détentes would be similarly vulnerable to derailment by domestic politics."


Why the Biden administration chose to disclose this balloon but not earlier (reported) ones is a crucial topic, according to Wildau. "The answer is still unknown, but we presume that unlike with earlier Chinese balloons, US officials thought this one would certainly be found by the public even in the absence of official confirmation," the report states.


When CNBC contacted the U.S. government for comment over the choice to make the balloon's presence public, no one responded right away.

The balloon was brought down over the weekend, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, after an American Air Force fighter first decided against doing so when the balloon was above American territory. On February 15, all senators will participate in a secret briefing on China, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.


According to a news release from the Senate Democrats on Sunday, "Schumer stated that we do know that once the balloon was exposed to the public, China sought to move the balloon to depart the U.S. as quickly as they could."

The U.S. decision to fire down the balloon was referred to as a "overreaction" by both China's Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

According to a public statement made public on Monday in Chinese and translated by CNBC, China's Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng stated that "What the U.S. has done has gravely harmed and undermined both sides' efforts and progress in stabilising China-U.S. ties since the Bali summit."


The "airship" was primarily used for meteorological research, according to the foreign ministry, and "deviated far from its planned trajectory" owing to wind and other outside causes.

Chinese social media saw discussion on the balloon, along with memes, although official Chinese-language sources have been less vocal thus far. The balloon was shot down on Sunday, but it was not included in a state-broadcast nightly news programme.


According to Dali Yang, a political science professor at The University of Chicago, "all sides realise the problems." We do get public communications, and it's likely that both parties are regretful of how this scenario has turned out.

I understand the sense that China is making an effort to make up for lost time, Yang added. That alone would imply that the Chinese leadership will exercise greater restraint and avoid letting this crisis escalate.

Both nations have highlighted the necessity of communication over the past few days, and they have done so at a high level.

According to readouts from both nations, Blinken met with Wang Yi on Friday. Wang Yi is a former foreign minister of China who was recently appointed to a more senior diplomatic position.

According to a statement from U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Ned Price, Blinken said it wouldn't be proper to visit Beijing at a time of "obvious breach of U.S. sovereignty and international law," but he would go there as soon as circumstances permitted.

Analysts contend that too much has already changed for the situation to just go back to how it was prior to the balloon event.


Roman Schweizer, managing director for aerospace and defence at Cowen and Company's Washington Research Group, stated in a report on Sunday that "last week's Balloon Crisis will have a significant impact on bilateral relations and certainly U.S. public opinion, political debate, and policies toward [China]."


"Countries spy on one another using a variety of techniques and technology, both on adversaries and friends. The danger is being discovered," stated Schweizer. "The Balloon Crisis has probably sufficiently humiliated the PRC that they will strive to retaliate, twist the story, or, simply stated, make the U.S. seem bad in some way."


He anticipates that the Biden government in the United States would face "push to get harder." He cited recent developments from the House Select Committee on China as well as the administration's export restrictions that target Chinese technology and prospective restrictions on American investment in China.


American Public Opinion

The establishment of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which was approved by a substantial majority of members from both the Democratic and Republican parties in January, marked the first significant bipartisanship victory for the newly elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy.

It is still uncertain whether McCarthy will follow the footsteps of his predecessor by visiting Taiwan, which has incurred Beijing's wrath in the past. Beijing considers Taiwan, a self-governed democratic island, to be a part of its territory.


A survey conducted by Pew Research in October revealed that more than half of Americans believe that the U.S. should continue to host high-level leaders in Taiwan, even if it causes harm to bilateral relations with China.

According to Pew Research, a growing number of Americans hold negative opinions towards China due to concerns regarding human rights practices, its alliance with Russia, and other factors. 

In a tweet, Michael Hirson, the Director of China Research at 22V Research, succinctly captured the impact of the recent events on U.S.-China relations: "The balloon incident is both humorous and alarming as it reflects the current state of the U.S.-China relationship, which is both absurd and dangerous."


From 1979 To Now, China & U.S. Have Had An Important But Fragile Relationship

The Sino-U.S. relationship has long been regarded as one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, and the recent virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Biden has shown signs of a possible détente between the two nations. However, despite these positive developments, there are still a number of lingering frictions between the two nations. To gain a deeper insight into the current state of the Sino-U.S. relationship and its future direction, CGTN interviewed David Ferguson, an expert in the field.


Mr. Ferguson evaluated the bilateral relationship between China and the U.S. by reflecting on its history, and he noted that the relationship between the two nations has always been fragile. He explained that the U.S. has used China as a tool against Russia in the past and that this kind of exploitation has resulted in a relationship that is always going to be delicate. Furthermore, he stated that the U.S. often acts as a not-so-genuine partner, building partnerships when it is in the country's geopolitical interest, and dismantling those partnerships when the situation changes.


In the interview, Mr. Ferguson also touched upon the issue of "ping-pong diplomacy," which marks its 50th anniversary this year. He compared the relationship between China and the U.S. to a game of ping-pong, in which the ball goes back and forth across the table, sometimes being on one side and sometimes being on the other. He explained that despite the current indications of détente between the two nations, this relationship will continue to experience highs and lows.


Moreover, Mr. Ferguson commented on the Trilateral Security Partnership AUKUS, which was recently formed by the U.S., UK, and Australia and has caused concerns among relevant ASEAN countries. He stated that this mechanism will not bring security and stability to the region, as it will only create instability and unpredictability. He also pointed out that the U.S. and the UK coming to Australia to create military alliances will not increase their own security but will, instead, create issues.

Mr. Ferguson painted a picture of a Sino-U.S. relationship that is always going to be delicate and prone to highs and lows, but that is currently showing signs of a possible détente. Despite these positive developments, Mr. Ferguson believes that the Trilateral Security Partnership AUKUS will not bring security and stability to the region and may even result in more instability and unpredictability.


Evaluation Of U.S.-China Relationship By A Subject Matter Expert, Including Their Analysis Of The "Ping-Pong diplomacy" And Frictions That Still Persist.

Subject matter expert David Ferguson recently sat down for an interview with CGTN, where he evaluated the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. He stated that the relationship, which has been one of the most important in the world, has had its highs and lows. He reflected back to the time of Nixon and Kissinger, when there was a positive development and a thaw in U.S.-China relations, but believes that this was more about the U.S. using China as a tool against Russia.


Mr. Ferguson has concerns that the U.S. often sees its relationships as a means to exploit other countries, instead of being a genuine partner. He stated that the U.S. will build partnerships when it feels that it's in their geopolitical interest to do so, and will unbuild them when the situation changes. This, he says, is why the bilateral relationship is always going to be fragile.


In reference to the 50th anniversary of the China-U.S. "Ping-Pong diplomacy," Mr. Ferguson likened the situation to the game of ping-pong itself, where the ball goes back and forth across the table, with the relationship between the two countries also experiencing highs and lows. He also noted that, despite the recent virtual meeting between President Xi and Biden showing signs of détente, frictions still persist.

Mr. Ferguson stated that the recent formation of the Trilateral Security Partnership AUKUS by the U.S., UK, and Australia has caused concerns among ASEAN countries. He firmly stated that this mechanism will not bring security and stability to the region. He highlighted that China poses no threat to the U.S. and UK, who are on the other side of the planet. According to Mr. Ferguson, the U.S. and UK's actions in coming to China's side of the planet to create military alliances only creates instability and unpredictability.

Mr. Ferguson's evaluation of the U.S.-China relationship highlights its fragility, and the ongoing frictions between the two countries. He believes that the U.S. often exploits other countries in its relationships and that the recent formation of the Trilateral Security Partnership AUKUS will not bring security to the region.


The “New Normal” in US-China Relations: Hardening Competition and Deep Interdependence. 

The relationship between the United States and China is one of the most crucial bilateral relations in the world today. Over the years, this relationship has undergone several changes, from the time of Nixon and Kissinger's positive development to the current scenario of hardening competition and deep interdependence.


#1 Hardening Competition

It is widely acknowledged that the current US-China relationship is characterized by growing competition, especially in areas like technology, trade, and military power. The competition between the two nations has been intensified in recent years, with each country seeking to assert its dominance in its respective spheres of influence.


For example, the ongoing trade tensions between the US and China have had a significant impact on the global economy, with tariffs and counter-tariffs causing disruption to trade flows. The US has also taken a number of measures aimed at curbing China's technological advancement, including restrictions on exports of critical technologies and investment in key industries.


#2 Deep Interdependence

Despite the growing competition, the US and China are also deeply interdependent, particularly in the economic sphere. China is a crucial trading partner for the US, with trade between the two countries totaling over $700 billion in 2019. Furthermore, many American businesses have significant operations in China, and the country remains an important source of low-cost goods for US consumers. 

Moreover, the two countries are also deeply interdependent in areas like energy and the environment. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and the US is one of the largest consumers of energy. As such, the two countries need to work together in order to address global environmental challenges like climate change.


Future Outlook For U.S.-China Relationship: Highlighting Fragility Of Bilateral Ties

The U.S.-China relationship has been one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world, with a history spanning several decades. Over the years, the relationship has gone through various ups and downs, with moments of cooperation and hostility in equal measure. A subject matter expert, David Ferguson, has evaluated the relationship and highlights the fragility of the bilateral ties between the two nations.

According to Mr. Ferguson, the relationship has been marked by a pattern of exploitation, with the U.S. often looking to use other countries to further its geopolitical interests. This tendency to exploit partners has resulted in a fragile relationship, where partnerships are built and unbuilt as circumstances change. He also mentions that the relationship has gone through high and low points, with the current situation showing signs of détente between the two nations at the highest level.

The 50th anniversary of the "Ping-Pong diplomacy" between China and the U.S. this year serves as a reminder of the potential for cooperation between the two nations. Mr. Ferguson views the term "ping-pong diplomacy" as an apt metaphor for the bilateral relationship, with the ball going back and forth between the two sides. The ball of cooperation and hostility between the two nations will continue to move from one side to the other in the future. 

However, the frictions that persist between the U.S. and China are a cause for concern. Mr. Ferguson highlights that the U.S. is guilty of manufacturing significant amounts of hostility towards China among the general public, which it can then turn on or turn off as it pleases. This is done by using various issues such as Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong to create tensions between the two nations.

The future outlook for the U.S.-China relationship is uncertain and marked by fragility. Despite the potential for cooperation, the continued frictions between the two nations make the bilateral ties precarious. It remains to be seen how the relationship will evolve in the future, and whether the two nations will be able to work together to address their common challenges. Nevertheless, it is imperative for both nations to strive for stability and cooperation, in the interest of global peace and prosperity.

The “new normal” in US-China relations is one characterized by hardening competition and deep interdependence. While the two nations are in competition with one another in areas like technology, trade, and military power, they are also deeply interconnected in areas like the economy and the environment. In order to effectively manage these complex and interwoven relationships, both countries need to engage in dialogue and cooperation. This is the only way to ensure a stable and secure future for both nations, and for the world as a whole.

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