Key pieces missing from the US-China diplomatic jigsaw

Toxic politics will continue to plague relations between Washington and Beijing

In the art of diplomacy, nationalism is a double-edged sword. It might play well at home but is toxic abroad.

Relations between China and major global democracies have illustrated that in the past 18 months.

Beijing’s repressive policy in Xinjiang, where up to 1.4 million Uighur Muslims have been held in internment camps, is projected as state unity. 

The crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and the ripping up of the “One Country, Two Systems” model is spun as a war against “subversion.”

“China’s position on issues related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong is consistent and clear. All the lies and disinformation cooked up by anti-China forces will collapse. Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. China will firmly safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a media briefing on Friday.

Amid this diplomatic chaos will be next week’s Sino-American talks in Alaska

It comes off the back of Friday’s Quad Summit between the United States President Joe Biden and the political leaders of Australia, India and Japan. It also follows Washington’s further tightening of restrictions on Chinese tech companies in the US.

The issues:

  • Washington and its closest Indo-Pacific partners committed to supplying up to a billion coronavirus vaccines in a choreographed Quad video conference to counter China’s growing influence.
  • Beijing has so far pledged or shipped around 90 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to silence criticism of its initial response to the coronavirus crisis.
  • Before the Quad meeting, the Federal Communications Commission singled out five Chinese companies as posing a threat to US national security.
  • The tech groups were 5G giants Huawei and ZTE along with communication firm Hytera, and surveillance operators Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua Technology.
  • Earlier this week, Beijing rolled out a new Hong Kong electoral system that will effectively bar pro-democracy candidates standing for office.

On the Quad: “We’re renewing our commitment to ensure that our [Indo-Pacific] region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, and free from coercion,” Biden said at the virtual summit without naming China as reported by the Reuters news agency.

Reaction to the news: “We hope countries will refrain from forming closed and exclusive ‘cliques’ and act in a way that is conducive to regional peace, stability and prosperity,” spokesman Zhao said on the Foreign Ministry website

On the Alaska meeting: “We’ve spoken a lot about our fundamental strategy of establishing a position of strength in the early going. And after the work of the past 50 days, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and I will enter the [Alaska] meeting with senior Chinese representatives from a position of strength,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told a media briefing ahead of the talks with Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi and Foreign Affairs top diplomat Yang Jiechi.

China Factor comment: This could end up being a rather short chat when you toss in the technology row and China’s predatory trading practices.