Don't expect a breakthrough in U.S.-China talks, former Australian prime minister says

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan will hold high-level, in-person talks on Thursday with China's Yang Jiechi and foreign minister Wang Yi.
  • Blinken, who is visiting Japan and South Korea ahead of Thursday's meeting, fired a salvo against Beijing over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the South China Sea and Tibet.
  • The two countries are searching for a new strategic narrative to govern their bilateral relationship, which has become highly competitive due to the shifting balance of power between Washington and Beijing, according to Rudd.

The meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials this week in Alaska is unlikely to produce any major breakthroughs, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Wednesday on CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan will hold high-level, in-person talks on Thursday with China's Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party's top decision-making body, and Wang Yi, the foreign minister. It will be the Biden administration's first high-level meeting with Chinese officials.

"It's more likely to be a dialogue about dialogue rather than substantive problem-solving," said Rudd, who is now president and CEO of Asia Society.

Blinken, who is visiting Japan and South Korea — Washington's two biggest military allies in Asia — ahead of Thursday's meeting fired a salvo against Beijing over Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, the South China Sea and Tibet.

Those issues are likely to be big topics of conversation when the two groups meet in Alaska, according to experts.

Redefining the U.S.-China relation

The U.S.-China relationship frayed over the past four years as the Trump administration blamed Beijing for a wide range of grievances, including: intellectual property theft, unfair trade practices as well as the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in China.

The two countries are searching for a new strategic narrative to govern their bilateral relationship, which structurally has become "more problematic" due to the shifting balance of power between Washington and Beijing, according to Rudd. He explained that China's rising influence has made the two superpowers fierce rivals in areas of trade, investment, technology, capital markets, influence as well as ideology.

"It's competitive, whether we like it or not," Rudd said. "However, at the same time, there are domains in each country which warrant cooperation, like climate change, like pandemics and like, frankly, global debt management."

Going forward, the two countries could identify those avenues for cooperation, while also taking note of areas of competition and the other party's red lines, the former prime minister said. That could potentially prevent the competitive relationship from escalating into open conflict.

Asia is a priority

President Joe Biden has said that his approach to China would be different from his predecessor, Donald Trump, and that his administration would work closely with allies to push back against Beijing. Last Friday, Biden virtually met with leaders of India, Japan and Australia as part of an informal strategic alliance known as the Quad.

The U.S. is off to a good start in terms of mending some of those alliances in Asia, according to Victor Cha, senior advisor and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS).

"Quite frankly, for allies, Japan and South Korea, the United States was speaking a language over the last four years that they really did not understand," Cha told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Wednesday.

"All these alliance relationships during those four years had been boiled down to how much money allies are willing to pay for U.S. security and that was it. Aside from that, these allies were seen as economic enemies and as liabilities in terms of U.S. power. They were not seen, traditionally, as they are — as assets of U.S. power," he said.

Rudd explained that the thinking in Beijing is that it will take the U.S. a long time to rebuild alliances after effectively walking away from them under the previous administration. But if the Biden administration "succeeds in entrenching America's position again in the region and with other allies, then the Chinese may have a more formidable challenge than at present they necessarily assume."

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