Opinion | A great mystery in US-China relations
By Augustus K. Yeung
Just as there are great and small Chinese historical mysteries, here is one most recent great or small mystery in US-China relations: The US has said Afghanistan is one area it can work with China to ensure peace and stability after its forces pull out.
"Afghanistan is an area the US can work with China," State Department says. "Both have alignment of interests in stabilizing Central Asian country."
Why it didn't materialize?
For the Americans, the Timing was Just Right
The US thought China would be interested in getting itself involved in Afghanistan, "It is in no one's interest to see an Afghanistan that lacks security, that lacks stability, that lacks prosperity, that is ravaged by violence," said Ned Price, the US State Department's spokesman. ("Afghanistan 'an area US can work with China'" South China Morning Post, August 6, 2021)
For the past twenty years when US forces were in operation in Afghanistan, the Chinese have been doing business there. From China's point of view, this is the best situation as the presence of the American military is also providing a stabilizing force for doing business.
Now that the US forces are pulling out of Afghanistan, the US presumed China would want to fill in the vacuum to protect its business ventures.
For the Chinese, there is not Enough US Sincerity
In response, Beijing said that China's cooperation with the US should be based on "mutual trust". The Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng reportedly told Wendy Sherman, US Deputy Secretary of State when she was in China for talks last month, the United States "can't expect China to cooperate with it on hot issues unconditionally while suppressing and containing China." He called on the US to "show sincerity".
For the withdrawing US forces, the best thing that could happen was to have China's involvement in the Afghan affairs as there was news that the Taliban were in China for talks with high-ranking Chinese officials in July.
From Beijing's perspective, the US still sees China as its biggest strategic rival and that competitions between the two sides have intensified in recent years. What China wants is not sporadic peace, but a stable US foreign policy of peace based on trust and sincerity, which the US is not willing to commit.
For a rising nation, China wants to be recognized for its outstanding economic achievements, and for its excellent result of its battle against poverty, which can inspire many developing countries in the world. And China would help the US out in Afghanistan if it could--as there is China's primary national security concern in Xinjiang, and the grand design of its Belt and Road Initiative, on which China pins its hope on alleviating the nagging Xinjiang issue by creating economic prosperity, employment and wealth creation for the Muslims in central Asia, hence political stability for the entire region.
China and the US can Cooperate in Afghanistan
China knew that Afghanistan is one of the "hot issues" and that the US would just want to provide its military a safe coverage while withdrawing, which the Chinese are hoping to negotiate for a better deal, meaning a more peaceful and stable Sino-US relations.
These talks happened on August 6, only nine days before the Afghan Taliban forces swept into Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. Given limited time, and the lack of US sincerity, China was then most unwilling to accept Washington's invitation. Can you blame Beijing?
And on August 15, as the US military planes were hastily evacuating the combat personnel at the Kabul Airport, the world witnessed the tragic event of panic people struggling to climb up a US plane, which took off, and then we watched the 17-year-old young soccer player falling off the wing of the plane to his death.
While the whole world watched in horror, Washington was greatly humiliated, not just embarrassed, and the US President Joe Biden was to blame. US credibility once again suffers another severe blow.
President Xi Raised Meng Case in Biden Phone Call
China confirmed on September 28 that President Xi Jinping demanded the US resolved the saga over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, during a phone call with President Joe Bide on September 9. "President Xi made a clear and specific effort on the Meng Wanzhou incident, clarified China's position, and demanded that the United States settle the issue properly as soon as possible," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had said in Beijing. ("Xi raised Meng case in Biden phone call", South China Morning Post, September 29, 2021)
"Hua said the resolution of Meng's case removed a thorn that was deeply inserted in the relationship between China and the United States," reported Liu Zhen, "The release of Meng was on a list of requests China presented to the US in July, which also included items such as removing restrictions on US visa applications for Chinese students and Communist Party members."
US and China to Talk More Following the Release of Meng
The release of Meng is generally seen by analysts as a breakthrough in US-China impasse in recent years. It is also interpreted by China as a sign of US sincerity that offers an opportunity for the two sides to step up interactions at all levels. Only then can there be hope of better understanding and a reassessment of circumstances to resolve disputes and find rooms for cooperation.
High-level face-to-face talks took place a few days ago between top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser in Zurich, Switzerland. After the meeting, both sides described it as candid and pragmatic, and the participants remain hopeful.
Meanwhile, Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, has recently said that she will soon be meeting with Liu He, her Chinese counterpart to discuss a range of trade issues. Now it seems that US-China relations are starting to move in the right direction. And the world gets a sigh of relief instead of a sneeze.
It may be a pity to see that the US has failed to solicit China's participation in Afghanistan to reign in the Taliban insurgents before the pull-out. However, the urgent need for Sino-US cooperation in war-torn Afghanistan is still there as the Taliban is in serious financial trouble with the nation's resources being frozen by the Americans.
And as severe winter sets in the mountainous region, and the inflation rates keep going up, the risk of a serious famine and a greater humanitarian disaster is looming large. To address these needs, the Chinese side is calling on their American counterpart to be responsive in executing a joint humanitarian effort and work for a better Afghanistan.
What a mystery! First, it was the Americans courting the Chinese to join them in Afghanistan in negotiations with the Taliban--shortly before their withdrawal. Now, after the collapse of the Afghan Ghani regime--it is the Chinese turn to press the Americans to return to help rebuild the country that is known as "the grave of empires."
With the ball now in America's court, the world wonders how will Washington respond for a change?
The author is a freelance writer; formerly Adjunct Lecturer, taught MBA Philosophy of Management, and International Strategy, and online columnist of 3-D Corner (HKU SPACE), University of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.