When the top diplomats of China and the United States held their latest meeting over the weekend, Beijing passed along four lists of items that it wanted Washington to address in order to improve the current strained relations between the world’s top two powers.
The exchange, first reported in a statement published Saturday by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was confirmed Monday during a press briefing held by spokesperson Wang Wenbin, who offered some more insight into the contents of these demands conveyed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“They include the updated list of US wrongdoings that must stop, and the updated list of key individual cases that the US must resolve, which were first presented to the US side at last year’s meeting in Tianjin,” Wang Wenbin told reporters. “The other two lists are the list of Acts in the 117th Congress of high concern to China and the list of cooperation proposals in eight areas including climate change, public health and people-to-people exchange.”
Summarizing the details of these lists presented to President Joe Biden’s administration on behalf of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Wang Wenbin said they “once again demonstrate China’s serious position that the US must stop exercising containment and suppression, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”
“The lists also reflect China’s constructive attitude about conducting practical cooperation with the US on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits,” he added. “We hope the US side can take China’s lists seriously, and take real actions to fulfill the commitments made by President Biden and the US government.”
Blinken did not address the four lists directly when speaking to reporters following his talks with Wang on Saturday, but he did say the two sides discussed areas “where more cooperation between our countries should be possible, including on the climate crisis, food security, global health, counter-narcotics,” as well as “areas of disagreement and ways to manage and reduce risks,” including on tensions over Taiwan, human rights concerns in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the status of US citizens unable to leave China.
Blinken added that “despite the complexities of our relationship,” he could “say with some confidence” that both parties found the talks “useful and constructive.”
Newsweek has reached out to the State Department for comment.
The contents of the four lists have not been made publicly available in full, but past statements offered hints as to what exactly Beijing was asking of Washington.
After presenting the first two lists to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Tianjin in July of last year, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng said he and his colleagues had made a “clear stance on China-US relations,” and urged “the US side to shift its extremely erroneous perception on China and its extremely dangerous policies toward China.”
“The Chinese side has also again expressed its strong dissatisfaction with US wrong statements and actions on such issues as novel coronavirus origin tracing, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and [the] South China Sea,” Xie said at the time. “[China] has urged the US side to immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, harming China’s interests, stepping on red lines, playing with fire and engaging in group confrontation under the guise of values.”
Directly addressing the “list of US wrongdoings that must stop,” Xie said that “the Chinese side has urged the US side to unconditionally withdraw its visa restrictions on members of the Communist Party of China and their families, revoke sanctions against Chinese leaders, officials and government sectors and visa restrictions against Chinese students, to stop suppressing Chinese enterprises, troubling Chinese students and suppressing Confucius Institutes, to withdraw the registration of Chinese media as ‘foreign agent’ or ‘foreign mission,’ and to cancel the extradition of Meng Wanzhou .”
It appears some progress has been made on certain questions over the course of the past year.
For example, in August, the Biden administration closed its official investigation into the origins of COVID-19 with an inconclusive finding among intelligence agencies on whether or not the disease more likely emerged naturally or from a lab such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The following month, an admission of guilt allowed Meng, CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, to return home from her detention in Canada over US charges of fraudulent transactions made in an effort to dodge US sanctions on Iran.
And after Biden and Xi’s virtual summit in November, both sides agreed to extend the validity of visas granted to each other’s journalists from three months to one year, and to allow them to depart and return without restrictions.
Many of the more recent strains in the US-China relationship emerged under the administration of former President Donald Trump, and Chinese officials have made public their hopes of finding a better partner in Biden. But Republicans and Democrats alike have hardened their positions against Beijing in recent years, and have sought to pass an array of legislation designed to counter the People’s Republic.
Among the most comprehensive of these measures was the US Innovation and Competition Act, originally introduced as the Endless Frontier Act, which was framed as an ambitious effort to revamp US funding for science and technology initiatives, especially in an effort to counter and compete with China . It was first passed by the Senate in June of last year, but has remained a source of protest for Beijing, which has criticized calls for sanctions on Chinese industries and support for those in Taiwan, a self-ruling island supported by the US but claimed by China.
The bill is currently being weighed against the House of Representatives’ America COMPETES Act of 2022, which includes similar provisions aimed at competing with China, and was most recently passed by the Senate in March. Conservatives have pushed for even harsher legislation against Beijing through proposals such as the Countering Communist China Act introduced by the House in July of last year.
One act concerning China that has since been signed into law is the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was endorsed by Biden in December. The move sought to prevent the import of products manufactured under conditions the US has described as a violation of human rights tied to China’s policies toward the largely Muslim Uyghur minority in the northwestern Chinese province, where Beijing has long denied Washington’s allegations of “genocide.”
Even the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, part of Biden’s $4 trillion American Jobs Plan and signed into law in November, scrutinized the potential role of labor practices in Xinjiang on the import of electric vehicle components, and restricted the use of funds for fiber optic cable and optical transmission equipment manufactured in China.
While the US relationship with China has remained tense since Biden came to office almost a year and a half ago, leaders from both sides have recognized the need to responsibly manage their dynamic. There has been a noticeable uptick in high-level engagements between the two leading nations in recent months, even as the US remains wary of China’s neutral stance on Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
In another sign of potential headway, US officials have suggested they were seeking to reconfigure tariffs levied against China as part of a trade war launched under the Trump administration. The apparent shift came as Biden sought ways to combat inflation at home.
But geopolitical frictions remain a core obstacle to bringing about better US-China ties, especially as the Biden administration showcased an “Indo-Pacific” strategy, widely viewed as a project to supplant the influence of Beijing in the region with that of Washington. Expanding ties with Taiwan were an especially sensitive issue, and have been discussed at length by Chinese officials.
Accusing Washington of supporting pro-“independence” forces in Taipei, People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command spokesperson Colonel Shi Yi announced Friday that Chinese forces held aerial and maritime exercises around Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the US continues to lead the world’s largest annual naval exercise, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), from which China was expelled in 2018.
US Pacific Fleet commander Navy Admiral Samuel Paparo told a press briefing Saturday that the latest installation of the drills, which began late last month, “is not directed against any particular nation-state actor.”
At the same time, however, he did state that the training “does demonstrate the solidarity of all its participants to the international rules-based order and the principles of sovereignty, of freedom of the seas, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and against what would otherwise be expansionist activities.”