Efforts by the United States to ease tensions with China are complicated by an apparent difference of opinion over who said what.
Chinese officials and state media insist that US President Joe Biden made a series of promises to China’s Xi Jinping. They are described by Beijing as the “four no’s and one no-intention” and they should guide official US conduct toward China.
“I hope the US side will … stick to the consensus President Biden and I arrived at during our meeting in Bali [in Indonesia] and put relevant positive expressions into practice,” President Xi was quoted by China’s state media as telling visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week.
Xinhua, the government’s official news agency, quoted Blinken as saying that the US side “will abide by the promises made by President Biden.”
Running through that list, Xinhua reported that Blinken said the US “does not seek ‘a new Cold War’ or change China’s [political] system.” It “does not seek to oppose China through strengthening alliances and does not support Taiwan independence.” It also “has no intention to enter into conflict with China.”
But when asked to confirm that Blinken made those remarks, the State Department referred Voice of America to a series of interviews he had conducted after his meeting with Xi in Beijing and media briefings.
While several of the reported commitments generally reflect existing US policy, Blinken did not mention any promises Biden had made to Xi in his public remarks. He reiterated the administration’s efforts to strengthen American technological and industrial position at home, as well as alliances and partnerships abroad.
On the question of Taiwan, Blinken said that while the Biden administration does not support independence, “the concern that we have is China changing its policy when it comes to resolving these differences peacefully.”
“We’re using engagement to try to advance our interests and to protect them,” Blinken said of the White House’s overall position toward China, including his trip to Beijing.
The Biden administration’s most comprehensive description of its China policy was delivered by Blinken in May 2022. Back then, the secretary of state said:
We do not seek to transform China’s political system. Our task is to prove once again that democracy can meet urgent challenges, create opportunities, advance human dignity; that the future belongs to those who believe in freedom and that all countries will be free to chart their own paths without coercion.
Chinese state media first quoted Biden as having made the promises to Xi when the two met for a virtual summit in November 2021. Biden was quoted as saying: “I’d like to clearly reiterate that the United States does not seek to change China’s political system.
“[It] does not seek to oppose China via strengthening alliances [and] has no intention to enter into conflict with China. The United States is committed to carrying out its long-held ‘one China’ policy [and] does not support Taiwan independence. [We] wish to see peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he added, according to Chinese state media.
The following year, China’s then-State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi sought to invoke those points to criticize members of the Biden administration in a keynote speech delivered at the Asia Society.
“President Biden has emphasized on multiple occasions that the US does not seek to fight a ‘new Cold War,’ does not seek to change China’s political system, does not seek to oppose China via strengthening alliances, does not support Taiwan independence [and] has no intention to enter into conflict with China,” Wang stated, before voicing Beijing’s frustration.
“For two orchestras to collaborate, it is mandatory that the two conductors first set a common tone, but at the same time, all the players are required to sound their harmonious notes, in accordance with the same score,” he said.
“However, what we have witnessed is that Team USA appears to have been working with two sets of scores and has failed to turn the political will expressed by their leader into logical policies, which has, in turn, caused confusion on the part of the Chinese people,” Wang added.
“The three principles proposed by Chairman Xi [concerning bilateral relations], i.e., China and the United States ought to respect each other, peacefully coexist, collaborate for ‘win-win,’ together with the ‘four no’s and one no-intention’ expressed by President Biden, form a perfect framework,” he continued.
“What Team USA ought to do right now is to put into practice what President Biden has said about the ‘four no’s and one no-intention’ and get bilateral relations back on track,” Wang concluded.
Wei Jingsheng, one of China’s most prominent dissidents now living in exile, noted the difference between a statement and a promise in an interview with VOA. “While statements are simply statements, the word ‘promise’ implies obligation and a pact reached between two parties,” he pointed out.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.