Wang’s new spin on China’s ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ with the US

The Chinese Foreign Minister warns Washington to stop ’smearing’ the ruling CCP after a brief glimpse of the Nixon era

A glimpse of “ping-pong diplomacy” recalled a bygone era on Monday. It came before Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the United States to stop “smearing” China’s Communist Party.

Dating back to 1972, the footage between Chinese and American table tennis players paved the way for then US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing to meet Chairman Mao Zedong.

How times have changed. Nearly 50 years later, the world’s two largest economies are locked in not only a “strategic rivalry” but a moral one as well.

“We urge the United States to stop smearing the [ruling] Communist Party of China [CCP] and our political system, stop conniving at, or even supporting, the erroneous words and actions of separatist forces for ‘Taiwan independence,’” Wang said at a forum with the less than catchy title of Promoting Dialogue and Cooperation and Managing Differences: Bring China-US Relations Back to the Right Track.

There was also an olive branch entangled within the barbwire. But it might not be strong enough to hold together Sino-American relations.

The facts:

  • Wang said Washington needed to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon sanctions on China’s tech sector.
  • That would involve ripping up the policy put in place by former US President Donald Trump.
  • Joe Biden’s White House has signaled there is room for maneuver on issues such as Climate China, Covid-19 and nuclear proliferation.
  • Core problems remain such as predatory trade practices, rising tension in the South China Sea and the bullying of democratic Taiwan.
  • The island is considered a renegade province by China with Beijing threatening to take it back by force if necessary.
  • Human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong have added to the toxic mix.
  • Up to 1.4 million Uighur Muslims have been held in internment camps in Xinjiang province. 
  • Media reports containing allegations of “rape and torture” have horrified the international community while being strenuously denied by President Xi Jinping’s administration.

What was said: Wang pointed out that “removing tariffs on Chinese goods” and abandoning the “irrational suppression” of the Chinese “tech sector” would create the conditions for cooperation. “The United States [has] basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels. We stand ready to hold candid [discussions] with the US to solve these problems. We have no intention to challenge or replace the United States. [During the past] 40 years, the Chinese and American peoples [have] enjoyed a long-standing friendship,” he said.

Reaction to the news: “To re-engage in a dialogue, both sides need to put forward their demands before returning to the negotiation table. China is showing such sincerity,” Gao Lingyun, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the state-owned Global Times.

Delve deeper: On Friday, President Biden warned that China poses a “long-term strategic” challenge. “We cannot and must not return to the rigid blocs of the Cold War. Competition must not lock out cooperation on issues that affect us all. For example, we must cooperate if we’re going to defeat Covid-19 everywhere,” he said after the Group of Seven virtual summit.

Collaboration, not confrontation: “We must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China. How the United States, Europe, and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake,” Biden said in his “America is Back” speech, referring to Washington’s allies.

China factor comment: Last week, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen confirmed that the Trump-era tariffs would stay in place. Only a commitment by China to scrap its predator trading practices would solve the conundrum. Sanctions on Chinese high-tech companies such as Huawei are also unlikely to be eased. In a geopolitical version of roulette, these are bargaining chips to combat Beijing’s state-sponsored economic policy.