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Why China's Foreign Minister Suddenly Wants Stronger Sino-US Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome, Oct. 31, 2021. (Tiziana Fabi/Pool via Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome, Oct. 31, 2021. (Tiziana Fabi/Pool via Reuters)

A Chinese official's pitch this week for stronger Sino-U.S. relations could indicate that Beijing wants to edge away from Russia and repair economic relations, some analysts say.

In a speech Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Washington to "reinstate a reasonable and pragmatic China policy" and "promote putting bilateral ties back on the right track," the state-run China Daily news website reported.

A breakthrough in Sino-U.S. relations would mark a turning point since the two powers began sparring in 2017 over trade, technology transfers and growing Chinese military might around Asia. U.S. President Joe Biden's government said in a report Tuesday it still sees China as a competitor that's "unfair" in trade.

Trade ties, distance from Russia

China has tried to avoid siding openly with Russia on its invasion of Ukraine last week despite a long, deepening friendship with Moscow.

China did not join Russia in vetoing a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution against the attack, and its U.N. ambassador suggested that Ukraine form a "bridge" between the East and West .

Washington has blasted its former Cold War rival Russia over the invasion.

Wang is "trying to make nice" in view of China's "increasingly" close ties with Russia, said Sean King, vice president of Park Strategies political consultancy in New York. "These are perilous times when we see who's who and what's what," King said.

Chinese officials are hoping the U.S. side will welcome their appeal for better relations as the United States faces "mounting inflation" among other economic issues, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Wang said Monday that China was willing to work with the United States on a G-7-led global infrastructure plan called Build Back Better World and welcomes Washington in its Belt and Road Initiative aimed at opening trade routes by building new infrastructure. Biden happens to be pushing the U.S. Senate for a $2-trillion social spending bill, which also is called Build Back Better.

"Now that the U.S. is embroiled in the confrontation with Russia, the U.S. will need friends and allies, and China has been adopting a rather ambivalent attitude with regards to the Ukraine invasion, so that creates a window of opportunity for the U.S. and China to come closer together," Oh said.

China could offer the United States "cost effective technology" for railways and prefabricated bridges, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore's public policy school. But he said Washington may be "too proud" to accept that support.

He said that bickering between the two powers has eased already. "Now it's either no news or positive news, which is good news," Araral said. "At least there's no more shouting match or megaphone diplomacy."

Momentum from 50 years ago

Wang spoke Monday at a video ceremony marking the 50-year anniversary of the Shanghai Communique. Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong and former U.S. President Richard Nixon signed the statement as a prelude to normalizing two-way relations.

"History tells us that by seeking common ground while reserving differences, we can attain peaceful co-existence between countries with different social systems," the foreign minister said.

"The older generation of leaders in both countries realized that despite the differences, neither side had the intention to change the other," he said. "Both sides hoped to see that the two countries could grow in parallel and conduct cooperation based on shared interests."

No deal yet

The Chinese foreign minister's comments, however, offer no actual deal. Wang criticized Washington on Monday as not "earnestly complying with the principles and spirit" of the Shanghai Communique, China Daily reported.

"It should abandon its mania for zero-sum games, give up its obsession with encircling and containing China, and break free from the shackles of political correctness," he told the video ceremony.

Americans continue to worry about China. Some point to China's growing use of big data analytics and its links to COVID-19. The coronavirus was first reported in China in late 2019.

"Unfortunately, with the virus, everybody blames China, so I don't think it's going to change," said Sylvia Rampi, general manager for an association of mostly Chinese-operated businesses in Oakland, California.