China sets conditions for reset of relations with US

Beijing wants sanctions and tariffs to be lifted, non-interference in domestic issues

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has signalled Beijing's desire for a reset in ties with Washington, saying at a Beijing forum that the country is willing to work with the United States to tackle issues such as Covid-19, climate change and the global economic recovery.

But he also set Beijing's conditions for cooperation, urging Washington to lift "unreasonable tariffs on Chinese goods" and sanctions on Chinese companies, research and education institutions, and stop its "irrational suppression" of Chinese technology.

"We hope the US side will adjust its policies as soon as possible," said Mr Wang yesterday, adding that this would create "necessary conditions" for cooperation.

He also said that Washington should stop interfering in China's domestic affairs, listing issues concerning Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

"A good-mannered gentleman never thrusts his knife and fork into the food on someone else's plate," said Mr Wang.

He is the latest senior Chinese official to signal Beijing's intentions for a reset and conditions under which it would like this shift to occur.

Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said at the forum that the two countries must clearly define their policy boundaries and have an accurate understanding of each other's strategic intentions.

Bilateral relations have sunk to a historic low under the previous Trump administration, with both sides engaged in disputes on issues including trade, technology, the pandemic and Taiwan, among others.

But communication between both sides has restarted since the Biden administration took power last month.

On Chinese New Year's Eve on Feb 11, President Xi Jinping had a phone call with President Joe Biden, during which the Chinese leader expressed Beijing's desire to re-establish dialogue and cooperation.

Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi also said in a speech earlier this month that Washington should move on from the "misguided policies" of the previous administration.

Acknowledging the sour state of relations, Mr Wang said both sides should follow up on the phone call between both presidents and open candid talks at all levels. "Over the past few years, the United States basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels," he added.

But he urged Washington to tear down what he called the "walls of misperceptions" to bring relations back on the right track.

In recent weeks, US administration officials and Mr Biden have pressed Beijing over issues concerning Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has reiterated that existing tariffs on Chinese goods would remain for now.

Dr Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China's Cabinet and founder of Beijing think-tank Centre for China and Globalisation, said Mr Wang's speech was an "olive branch" to the new US administration.

"China still has good reasons to maintain good relations; it has no intention to interfere with American businesses and wants to improve China-US ties," he pointed out.

Professor Zhu Feng, dean of the School of International Relations at Nanjing University, said Beijing was also making clear its positions while the Biden administration reviews the Trump-era China policies.

"What's most important now is to look closely at how the Biden administration designs and positions its policy on China," said Prof Zhu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'China sets conditions for reset of relations with US'. Subscribe