US to stress need for ‘guardrails’ in Sherman’s talks in China

Published July 25, 2021
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s talks follow several combative months since the countries’ first senior diplomatic meeting under President Joe Biden’s administration in March. — Reuters/File
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s talks follow several combative months since the countries’ first senior diplomatic meeting under President Joe Biden’s administration in March. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will tell China in upcoming talks that while Washington welcomes competition with Beijing, there needs to be a level playing field and guardrails to ensure that does not veer off into conflict, senior US officials said on Saturday.

The officials, briefing reporters ahead of Sherman’s talks in Tianjin with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, said the world’s two largest economies needed responsible ways to manage competition.

“She’s going to underscore that we do not want that stiff and sustained competition to veer into conflict,” one senior US administration official said ahead of the first high-ranking, face-to-face contact between Washington and Beijing in months as the two sides gauge how they can salve festering ties.

“The US wants to ensure that there are guardrails and parameters in place to responsibly manage the relationship,” he said. “Everyone needs to play by the same rules and on a level playing field.” Sherman is due in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, on Sunday.

On the heels of Sherman’s trip, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will next week travel to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit India, signs of US efforts to intensify engagement as China challenges Washington’s influence in Asia.

Sherman’s talks follow several combative months since the countries’ first senior diplomatic meeting under President Joe Biden’s administration in March.

Chinese officials publicly lambasted the United States at that meeting in Alaska, accusing it of hegemonic policies, and US officials accused China of grandstanding.

The official on Saturday said the Tianjin meeting would be a continuation of the Alaskan talks and “all dimensions of the relationship will be on the table.”

Since Alaska the two countries have traded diplomatic barbs on an almost constant basis. The latest exchanges came on Friday when Beijing sanctioned former US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other individuals and groups in response to US sanctions over China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.

Bilateral ties have soured to such a degree that foreign policy experts do not expect significant outcomes from Tianjin.

If the talks go reasonably well, however, they could help set the stage for an eventual meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, possibly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Italy in late October.

“If the trust is there, both sides can use these talks to discuss cooperation on bilateral issues like removing the restriction on diplomats and students visas, and on multilateral issues involving Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, climate change,” said Wu Xinbo, director of American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said the trips by Blinken and Austin, as well as diplomatic efforts such as a planned second summit between Biden and leaders from Japan, India and Australia later in the year, may have China feeling hemmed in.

“The Chinese are undoubtedly concerned that the US is making some progress in forging coalitions aimed at pressuring China,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021

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