US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Picture: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Picture: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Global giants US and China caught between conflict and co-operation

By Gert Grobler Time of article published Apr 15, 2021

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Although US President Joe Biden announced, prior to his assumption of office, that he would continue “to be tough” on China , the first encounter between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi , regrettably resulted in a bitter confrontation.

Blinken launched a scathing and inappropriate attack on China from the outset. He highlighted the deep concern of the US with actions by China in regard to Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Uygur ethnic group in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The Chinese delegation, determined to safeguard its legitimate interests, promptly retaliated in a comprehensive and hard-hitting manner. It did, however, emphasise that it did not seek conflict or confrontation with the US and that it preferred co-operation.

A key element of Biden’s China strategy is to build “democratic alliances” and a “united front” against China. As a result of this coercive approach, the EU, later followed by the UK and Canada, in turn also decided to impose sanctions against a number of Chinese officials allegedly involved in the violation of human rights of the Uygur ethnic group in Xinjiang. China, defending its interests, imposed sanctions on a number of US, UK and Canadian politicians, civil rights organisations and entities directly involved in escalating the “lies and false information” on the situation in Xinjiang.

This provoked outrage in the mentioned countries. In Europe it resulted in a threat to put the proposed comprehensive EU-China investment deal, agreed upon in December, on ice. The European business sector is expressing deep concern about this move which they regard as counter productive. Given the significant size of EU investment and trade with China, many observers predict that a suspension of the agreement would have a much more damaging impact on the EU economy than on that of China.

Regrettably, tensions escalated and it was indeed a matter of concern to many countries worldwide that the US, in its strong reaction, once again alluded to genocide in Xinjiang. This constitutes a grave allegation about which there is currently significant disagreement at international level due to the lack of any concrete and credible evidence. In this regard, The Economist (February 13) noted: “Mr Biden is right to decry China’s abuses, but he should do so truthfully. The country is committing crimes against humanity. (an accusation which China also vehemently disputes). By accusing it of genocide instead, in the absence of mass murder, America is diminishing the unique stigma of the term.”

These unfounded allegations by the US and certain Western countries as regards Xinjiang province are justifiably rejected by China as lies and fabricated propaganda. The Xinjiang-related issues are in essence about countering violent terrorism and deradicalisation, a fact that is conveniently ignored by the US and others.

It should be noted that the extremist East Turkistan Islamic Movement operating in Xinjiang with the aim of establishing an independent Turkistan in China, has officially been designated as a terrorist movement by the UN Security Council, in accordance with Resolution 1267 . There is furthermore a standing invitation by China to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva to visit Xinjiang to acquaint herself with the true state of affairs.

Africa, as is the case in various other regions and countries around the globe, has noted the remarkable economic and social progress that China has achieved over the last few decades, including in Xinjiang where the Uyghur population continues to grow. These countries overwhelmingly view the Western allegations as malicious fabrications with ulterior motives and as nothing but an attempt to impede the remarkable development progress of China. These fraudulent allegations are also used in regard to Hong Kong and Taiwan in an attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It is an unequivocal fact that the international community is predominantly of the view that China and US, as the two leading world powers, should strive for co-operation rather than conflict. There is growing international concern over the potential negative implications for global growth, stability and peace flowing from an escalating feud between the US and China.

The overriding reason for this is the key role that China plays in the global economy as well as its impressive recovery which is adding significant momentum to future global economic growth.

Such a constructive approach of co-operation between the two largest world economies would have a beneficial impact on global peace, the resuscitation of the global economy and multilateral co-operation.

The international community has also noted the commendable proposals put forward by President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Conference In Geneva in January during which he pledged that China would “take an active part in international co-operation on Covid-19”, continue to promote sustainable development as well as “a new type of international relations”.

It is against this background that the international community increasingly poses the question: When will the US realize that containment of China is a pipe dream and that sustained efforts in this regard will be to the detriment of global peace and stability?

Fortunately there remain an increasing number of observers who hold the view that, although it will require political will and fancy diplomatic footwork, cooler heads will eventually prevail in US-China relations, especially over the longer term.

Biden encouragingly adopted a somewhat more moderate approach recently by saying he had spent a lot of time with President Xi Jinping in the past, in fact “more than any other leader” and added that he was a “smart guy” but their political philosophies differed.

Biden nevertheless said: “We are not looking for confrontation with China but we realise that there will be steep, very steep competition.” He also implied that US policy towards China involves many facets and is still taking shape.

It is also significant that he invited presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to a summit on climate change in the US that will take place soon in the run-up to the COP 26 conference in Glasgow. It is against this background that it can be expected that hopefully once the dust has settled, a US -China dialogue will gradually emerge. Also that some of the bilateral communication channels between the two governments will be reactivated, step by step, which will contribute to further normalisation of relations.

Furthermore, despite all the fierce recriminations and heightened tensions, China, in principle, remains ready to resume dialogue with the US on the basis of mutual respect, good faith and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. It would be most helpful if the US were also to discard its Cold War mentality, its interventionist policies abroad and cease spreading fabricated lies and propaganda on issues like Xinjiang, all of which serve to impede the normalisation of relations between the US and China.

In light of the catastrophic global repercussions of possible military conflict between the US and China, it is hoped that the two giants, despite significant ideological and other differences as well as pressure stemming from the wider international community, will increasingly have no choice but to opt for consultation rather than confrontation. As Sir Winston Churchill rightly remarked: “Jaw jaw is better than war war”.

* Gert Grobler is former ambassador and currently Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Africa Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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