The turnaround in China-US relations seemed imminent when both countries agreed on the text of the phase one economic and trade deal on December 13. But only a day later, the New York Times reported about the secret expulsion of two Chinese embassy officials who trespassed a "sensitive" US military base.
Actually, the news did not seem so new. Reportedly, the incident occurred in September. So, it is quite interesting that US media chose to uncover it after three months.
This is the first time in 30 years that the US deported Chinese diplomats, which is also the time relations are undergoing the most serious test. When China puts all efforts into handling differences with the US, the other side shows no sincerity. Not only does the US interfere in China's internal affairs by introducing laws related to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang
, but also blocks bilateral communications and exchanges in trade, education, technology and diplomacy.
Hence, there is reason to believe that the US is using its phase one deal with China as a buffer, which can enable Trump to avoid impeachment and his predicament in presidential election.
The US is trapped in a Cold War mind-set. It chose to reveal the deportation of Chinese diplomats at a crucial point to definitely worsen China-US relations, which also indicates that Washington is now in a period of strategic aimlessness.
The US has not yet thought thoroughly and clearly about the direction relations with China will take. The trade war, extraterritorial acts and witch hunt for Chinese people and companies are only its tactics in the competition with China.
At the end of 2017, China was already listed as a strategic competitor by the US. While after two years, there is still no consensus on the strategic goals for China among US scholars and politicians. Some wish China would fall like the Soviet Union, some wish it would surrender to the US, while others hope to battle it out with China. Therefore, US policies on China are still in the trial-and-error process.
Unfortunately, no matter what illusions the US harbors, it will end up being disillusioned. An open, inclusive and disciplinary China will only connect to the world even closer. Nowadays, China is the top trading partner for over two-thirds of the countries in the world, which the US cannot restrain on its own.
Last century, the US only had to face an unpopular rival, the Soviet Union. But for now, it needs to deal with China - a powerful competitor matching its might. The only lesson that the US can learn from is the Cold War. But if the US still sticks to its stereotype against China, its national strategy will further go down the wrong track and worsen conflicts with the country.
In the foreseeable future, China-US relations will worsen easily if the US continues to behave like this. Since 2014, Russia and the US have deported each other's diplomats multiple times, which has hit bilateral relations. Luckily, China refrains from getting into such squabbles with the US.
In order to cover up the rift in domestic politics and divert attention from increasing social inequality, the US has created an evil image of China. Due to the influence of the trade war, the negative perception of the American public about China has risen to 60 percent from 2018 to 2019, which is the highest in the past three decades.
Meanwhile, US right-wing populists are also eager to hurt globalization by stirring a new cold war with China. If both sides cannot keep a clear mind and realize that strategies serve politics, they will be manipulated by certain forces with ulterior motives and get trapped.
Under the circumstances that both Democrats and Republicans are extremely polarized, taking a hard-line approach toward China becomes easier. Thus, it is basically impossible to rely on their self-awakening. On the one hand, China should avoid blind optimism and not have any illusions about the US; while on the other hand, it needs to be fully aware that the conflict with the US will be a protracted battle. The phase one deal is far from perfect and more unpleasant incidents will take place.
China should be cautiously optimistic. China definitely has the opportunity to influence the US. Only by bringing the US back on the right track with a firm belief in easing frictions between them can China move forward in this battle.
China has enough composure and wisdom to drag the US forward. For a long time, bilateral relations are likely to be in a delicate state with US strategic aimlessness and China correcting its own mistakes. However, this new balance will benefit China. The international community has its own way of judging the one who turns its back on globalization and who embraces the world. The author is a doctoral student of US diplomacy and China-US relationship studies with China Foreign Affairs University. [email protected]