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GP Insights # 467, 6 February 2021
On 1 February 2021, in a conversation with Jacob J. Lew, the Politburo Member and the Director of the office of the Central Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Politburo of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Yang Jiechi expounded on the state of US-China relations and prospects for the future of the bilateral relations. In his address, he cautioned the US not to cross the "red lines".
What is the background?
First, the new redline as Beijing's signal to the larger US-China relations. China is anxious about its relations with the US under Joe Biden. The leadership of China believes that the US-China relations have reached "new crossroads" and "a new window of hope" is opening with the coming of Joe Biden. Thus, as an attempt to put forth the Chinese perspective on the evolving bilateral relation Yang Jiechi articulated his response.
Second, China would like to continue with what it has agreed with the Trump administration. There is an agreement reached in January 2020. As per the agreement, China agreed to purchase more of certain US goods and services worth USD 200 billion in 2020 and 2021 with the base year as 2017. On 13 January 2021, the US declassified "the US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific". It is rare to declassify a document before its scheduled date. The objective of declassifying the document was to put forth the official US stance in the public domain is to ensure that the administration does not retract. Perhaps, China also wants to push the same argument with force and new redlines.
Third, China's "Wolf Warrior Diplomacy" - a euphemism for its new approach. The Chinese diplomats have been more aggressive in defending their country's interests. Yang Yechi redline statement is perhaps a part of this aggressive strategy.
What does it mean?
Will the Biden administration go back on the Trump policies? The new administration has already reaffirmed Taiwan's enduring commitment and advised China "to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure." US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said he agreed that China's actions in its western Xinjiang region should be designated as "genocide". He has also offered support to people fleeing Hong Kong, "the US should give haven to people fleeing political repression in Hong Kong. Consequently, Yang Yechi alluded to draw a "red line" on the core issues and reiterated that the US should fulfil its commitment to abide by the One-China principle.
Yang Jiechi speech was the most high-profile appeal by China to the US ever since Joe Biden took office. Through this speech, he has put the onus on the US to mend the damage caused by the "misguided policies" under the Trump administration. Furthermore, after the speech, China Daily published an article titled, "US govt urged to focus on cooperation". The article highlighted that both China and the US task to take their relationship back to "a predictable and constructive track". It stated, the two largest economies should build a model of interaction that "focuses on peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation".
To conclude, redline speech is an indication that US-China relations are not expected to be smooth.