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US and China positions at a standstill in entrenched Tianjin talks

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With no indication of a US-China leaders' summit in the works, nor any outcomes announced from high-level diplomatic talks on Monday (26 July), relations between Beijing and Washington appear to be at a standstill as both sides insist the other must make concessions for ties to improve, write Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom.

US officials had stressed that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's trip to the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials was a chance to ensure that stiffening competition between the two geopolitical rivals does not veer into conflict.

But the combative statements that emerged from the meeting – albeit coupled with suggestions from officials that closed-door sessions were marginally more cordial – mirrored the tone set in Alaska in March, when the first senior-level diplomatic talks under President Joe Biden were overshadowed by rare public vitriol from both sides.

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While Tianjin did not expose the same degree of outward hostility that was on display in Alaska, the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.

Sherman pressed China on actions Washington says run counter to the rules-based international order, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, what the U.S. government has deemed is an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet and the curtailing of press freedoms.

"I think it'd be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China's cooperation," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the talks, referring to global concerns such as climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

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"It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to… take the next step," a second U.S. administration official said of bridging disagreements.

But Wang insisted in a statement that the ball was in the United States' court.

"When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again," he said, demanding that Washington remove all unilateral sanctions and tariffs on China.

China's Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of co-operation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say is a recipe for diplomatic ossification and that leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said it was important for the two sides to maintain some form of engagement. At the same time, there appeared to be no agreement in Tianjin for follow-up meetings or mechanisms for ongoing dialogue.

"That will probably leave US allies and partners uneasy. They are hoping for greater stability and predictability in the US-China relationship," Glaser said.

Both sides are likely to be disappointed if they expect the other to give in first, she added.

There has been some expectation in foreign policy circles that Biden could meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming president on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Italy in October.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the prospect of a Biden-Xi meeting did not come up in Tianjin, though she added that she expects there will be some opportunity to engage at some point.

Indications are, meanwhile, that the Biden administration may scale up both enforcement actions impacting Beijing – such as cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China – and coordination with allies in the context of countering China, including another summit later this year that Biden is keen to host with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India.

Biden's White House also has given few signals that it intends to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods established under the Trump administration.

At the same time, cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic seems almost entirely out of reach, with the United States calling Beijing's rejection of a World Health Organization plan for further study of the virus' origin "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

There has been little sign either of a willingness by China to cooperate with Washington on the climate issue, a priority for Biden, despite energetic entreaties by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"What was on display in Tianjin is that both sides are still very far apart on how they view the value and role of diplomatic engagement," said Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,, said neither side saw much upside for now in being more cooperative.

"And there's no low-hanging fruit for cooperation for either side and any gesture toward co-operation actually comes with significant costs, both domestic and strategic," he said.

"I think we ought to have very low expectations about the two sides finding common ground and stabilizing the relationship in the near future."

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Competition: EU, US and the People's Republic of China participated in the Fifth Global Maritime Regulatory Summit

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On 7 September, senior government officials from the EU, the US and the People's Republic of China participated in the Fifth Global Maritime Regulatory Summit. Participants included representatives of the competition and maritime authorities responsible for regulating international liner shipping in the world's largest liner trade lanes.

The summit covered sectoral developments since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, including the challenges faced by the international container transport sector and broader issues of maritime supply chains. Participants agreed that the pandemic presented operators in shipping companies, ports and logistics services with exceptional challenges, on routes to and from the EU as well in other parts of the world.

They exchanged views on the respective actions undertaken by their jurisdictions, as well as future outlook and perspectives, including possible actions to increase the resilience of the sector. The summit takes place every two years and is a forum to foster cooperation between the three authorities. The next summit will be convened in 2023 in China.

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Reimagining a more resilient UN system with Taiwan in it

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After more than 200 million infections and over 4 million deaths and counting, the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the globe. This has created a profoundly devastating socio-economic impact on our interconnected world, with virtually no countries spared. The pandemic has disrupted global trade, exacerbated poverty, impeded education, and compromised gender equality, with middle to low income nations bearing the brunt of the burden, writes Jaushieh Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan) (pictured, below).

As many countries brace for another spike of the virus, prompted by the highly contagious Delta variant, the world looks up to the United Nations (UN) to ramp up comprehensive efforts to resolve the crisis, ensure better recovery, and rebuild sustainably. This is a daunting task that requires all hands on deck. It is time for the global body to welcome Taiwan, a valuable and worthy partner that stands ready to lend a helping hand.  

Over the past few months, Taiwan, like many other countries, has been dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases after almost a year of success in containing the virus. Yet, it got a handle on the situation and emerged even more ready to work with allies and partners to tackle the challenges posed by the pandemic. Taiwan’s effective response to the pandemic, its rapid capacity expansion to meet global supply chain demand, and its substantive assistance toward partner countries around the world all speak to the fact that there is no lack of compelling reasons for Taiwan to play a constructive role in the UN system.

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However, under pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the UN and its specialized agencies continue to reject Taiwan, citing the 1971 UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 (XXVI) as a legal basis for this exclusion. But the language of the resolution is crystal clear: it merely addresses the issue of China’s representation in the UN; there is no mention of Chinese claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, nor does it authorize the PRC to represent Taiwan in the UN system. The fact is, the PRC has never governed Taiwan. This is the reality and status quo across the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese people can only be represented on the international stage by their popularly elected government. By falsely equating the language of the resolution with Beijing’s “one China Principle,” the PRC is arbitrarily imposing its political views on the UN.

The absurdity doesn’t end there. This exclusion also obstructs the participation of Taiwan’s civil society. Taiwanese passport holders are denied access to UN premises, both for tours and meetings, while Taiwanese journalists cannot obtain accreditation to cover UN events. The only reason for this discriminatory treatment is their nationality. Barring members of Taiwan’s civil society from the UN defeats the ideal of multilateralism, contravenes the UN’s founding principles of promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and hampers the UN’s overall efforts.

For six decades, Taiwan has been providing assistance to partner countries around the world. Since the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda, it has focused on helping partners achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and, more recently, engage in antipandemic response and postpandemic recovery. Meanwhile, at home, Taiwan has fulfilled its SDGs in gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and good health and well-being, among others. Our innovative, community-based solutions are harnessing public-private partnerships for the benefit of society as a whole.

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The World Happiness Report 2021, released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ranked Taiwan the happiest in East Asia, and 24th in the world. The ranking indicates how the people of a country feel about the social support they receive, and reflects in large part a country’s implementation of the SDGs. Taiwan is willing to pass on its experience and work with global partners to build a better and more resilient future for all.

At a time when the world is sounding the clarion call for climate actions and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Taiwan is actively charting a roadmap toward the goal, and has drafted dedicated legislation to facilitate this process. Climate change knows no borders, and concerted efforts are a must if we want a sustainable future. Taiwan knows this, and is working on the best ways to turn the challenges of carbon reduction into new opportunities.

In his oath of office in June this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our shared vulnerability and interconnectedness. He said that the UN, and the states and people it serves, can only benefit from bringing others to the table.

Denying partners that have the ability to contribute is a moral and material loss to the world as we seek to recover better together. Taiwan is a force for good. Now is the time to bring Taiwan to the table and let Taiwan help.

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EU-Taiwan relations: MEPs push for stronger partnership

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In a new report adopted on Wednesday (1 September), MEPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee advocate closer relations and a stronger partnership between the EU and Taiwan guided by the EU’s One China Policy, AFET.

They also hail Taiwan as a key EU partner and democratic ally in the Indo-Pacific that contributes to maintaining a rules-based order in the midst of an intensifying rivalry between the great powers in the region.

Prepare the ground for a new Bilateral Investment Agreement

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To step up cooperation, the text stresses the need to urgently begin an “impact assessment, public consultation and scoping exercise” on an EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA). MEPs highlight the importance of trade and economic relations between the two sides, including on matters relating to multilateralism and the World Trade Organization, technology such as 5G, public health, as well as essential cooperation on critical supplies such as semiconductors.

Deep concerns over Chinese military pressure against Taiwan

On another note, the report expresses grave concern over China’s continued military belligerence, pressure, assault exercises, airspace violations and disinformation campaigns against Taiwan. It urges the EU to do more to address these tensions and to protect Taiwan’s democracy and the island’s status as an important EU partner.

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MEPs insist that any change to Chinese-Taiwanese cross-strait relations must be neither unilateral nor against the will of Taiwanese citizens. They also issue a stark reminder of the direct connection between European prosperity and Asian security and of the consequences for Europe if a conflict were to extend well beyond the economic realm.

The text, which also addresses a range of other aspects and recommendations related to EU-Taiwan relations, will now be submitted to a vote in plenary. It was approved by 60 votes in favour, 4 against with 6 abstentions.

“The first European Parliament report on EU-Taiwan relations sends a strong signal that the EU is ready to upgrade its relationship with our key partner Taiwan. The Commission must now intensify EU-Taiwan relations and pursue a comprehensive enhanced partnership with Taiwan. Work on an impact assessment, public consultation and a scoping exercise on a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) with the Taiwanese authorities in preparation for negotiations to deepen our economic ties must begin before the end of this year,” said rapporteur Charlie Weimers (ECR, Sweden) after the vote.

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