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Mariano Caucino

Thaw in Beijing

Ending a two-day visit to the Chinese capital, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that talks with the People´s Republic top leaders had yielded the positive result of coincidence in the need to “stabilize” the bilateral link between the two greatest world powers.

Blinken held meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and top diplomat Wang Xi -head of the Communist Party International Affairs Office- and foreign minister Qin Gang.

It is essential to remember that Blinken´s trip to Beijing takes place at the lowest point in the Sino-American relations since President Nixon historic visit to Mao in February 1972 and their full normalization in 1979 during the Carter Administration.

In February of this year, Blinken made a last minute cancellation of his planned visit to China when an alleged spy balloon overflight was detected in US airspace.

It is at this level that Blinken’s trip was interpreted as a “thaw” in which they agreed on the importance of achieving a more stable relationship based on recognizing the global disruptions arising from US-China disagreements. President Xi Jinping welcomed the “progress” in the relationship as he received President Joe Biden’s envoy at the Great Hall of People, the scenical reception hall used to honor visiting heads of state.

However, they recognized the persistence of perhaps irreconcilable differences. For example, Beijing rejected the possibility of restarting military communication channels -a point that arises alarm in countries neighboring China- on the grounds of the continuation of sanctions. At the same time that both parties maintain apparently endless divergences on crucial issues such as Taiwan, Human Rights, North Korean provocations, trade wars and Ukraine.

Before taking his return plane, Blinken declared that both his government and the Chinese recognized the need to stabilize relations and welcomed the “candid and constructive” talks held with the highest officials of the Politburo, although he admitted that progress in them will require further effort.

Meanwhile, the Global Times -the Party´s key mouthpiece- highlighted that the Chinese leader had called on the US envoy to adopt a “rational and pragmatic” attitude in order to avoid greater competition between the two countries while reiterating the need to respect Chinese legitimate rights and interests.

According to the CCP body, the result of the talks made it possible to see “some consensus” and recalled that the world needs a stable relationship between the US and China. In that sense, Xi observed that “both countries must act with a sense of responsibility before History, before our peoples and before the world.”

Xi reiterated that China respects US interests and does not seek to replace American hegemony. A point that would be highlighted by Wang Yi, for whom the origin of the deterioration in bilateral relations is due to the erroneous US perception of China’s motivations and desires. To the point of asking his counterpart to avoid insisting on the narrative around the “Chinese threat”. At the same time, the Secretary of State repeated that the White House is not looking for a new Cold War nor is it promoting a policy that tends to encourage changes in China’s domestic structure. While he explained that American alliances are not directed against China but in attention to its global security interests. But the perhaps inevitable rivalry between the US and China seems to be the sign of the times. Presenting the structural note of the current world order. In which the other actors in the system face this reality full of challenges and opportunities.

Suddenly it is convenient to stop at a specific case. An expression of this occurred when Pakistani Foreign Affairs minister Hina Rabbani Khar stated in an interview with Politico that Islamabad does not have the vocation of “choosing” between Washington and Beijing. At the same time, she warned of the risks of “decoupling” and the notion of a world that seems to be divided into two blocks.

Possessing a nuclear arsenal and a population of 250 million, Pakistan is viewed as a key player in the contest for strategic influence in Asia. Washington’s ally during the Cold War and always at enmity with India, the country has deepened its ties with China in search of financing for ambitious infrastructure projects. Such as its pretension to access to the port of Gwadar, strategically located at five hundred kilometers from the Strait of Hormuz. At the same time that it maintains the need for North American assistance to face its delicate financial situation before the International Monetary Fund.

But this reality does not escape other latitudes. The one that forces the leadership of the countries of the now called “Global South” to explore pragmatic paths in the face of the signs of the times.

Recognizing that we live in a world that often turns out to be different from the one we imagine and in which the first lesson to be observed seems to consist in the imperative need to interpret the reality of the facts.

It is in this context that the key visit of the Secretary of State to Beijing took place. In what perhaps represents an attempt to avoid catastrophic scenarios. According to the current situation in which the modest aspirations of achieving a mere thaw respond to the observation of a suddenly inexorable reality. In which the persistence of tensions between the two powers seem to have the characteristics of the inevitable.

About the Author
Mariano Caucino was Argentine ambassador to Israel (2018-2019) and to Costa Rica (2016-2017).