China Daily (Hong Kong)
Dialogue only way to build consensus and get relations back on right track
The speech State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered at the opening of the Lanting Forum on Sino-US relations on Monday should be taken as the latest summary of Beijing’s views on bilateral relations and an overture for US policymakers to tear down the “walls of misperceptions”.
Over one month has passed since the Joe Biden administration took office, but the impression lingers that the two countries have still been talking at rather than with one another.
Yet although the phone call between the top diplomats of the two countries earlier this month is viewed as reaffirming the rivalry between the two countries, the frankness, depth and scope of their conversation should have driven home the message that both sides want to see improvement in their relations, and they are making joint efforts in that direction, even if the pace seems glacial.
Various channels were institutionalized for communication between the two countries when Biden was the vice-president of the United States in the Barack Obama administration, and he should be aware of the important role they played in bolstering mutual trust and understanding.
The dialogue mechanisms, at various levels, constituted one of the two key pillars for bilateral ties, the other being their economic and trade cooperation that produces tangible benefits for both countries.
That’s why Wang highlighted the importance of stepping up dialogue in his speech. Stressing that one of the main reasons that China-US relations went into free fall was the previous US administration’s decision to cut off communication at all levels, he urged the US to resume dialogue so that bilateral relations are not defined by disagreements.
To this end, dialogue mechanisms should be reactivated or established in various areas and at various levels to follow up on the phone call between the two presidents on the eve of the Chinese New Year in which the two sides took their bearings having arrived at a crossroad.
What has happened over the past four years should have reminded the Biden administration that without candid dialogue misperceptions multiply and the risk of a miscalculation becomes ever greater.
As the past month indicates, no matter how intensively they have taken advantage of multilateral platforms and occasions to convey their views to each other, that is no substitute for direct dialogue.
By reopening and opening new channels for communication, the two sides can follow a progressive easy-to-difficult approach to resolve their differences. The fruits of this would help restore the people-to-people friendship that is key to benign state-to-state relations. A friendship that was “poisoned” by the hostile rhetoric and abrasive policies of the previous administration.
Mutual respect is the prerequisite for any friendship. As Wang expressed it, a good-mannered gentleman never thrusts his knife and fork into the food on someone else’s plate. Now is the time for the US administration to help reset the table so the two sides can engage in civil conversation.