US needs to meet China halfway to restore respectful relations: US scholar

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Source: Global Times

Photo:Global Times

Editor’s Note:

Although a bipartisan consensus to be tough on China prevails in the US, there are still moderate and rational scholars calling for a reset in China-US relations. Jon R. Taylor (Taylor), professor and chair of Department of Political Science and Geography, the University of Texas at San Antonio, is one of them. In a written interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui, professor Taylor shared his views on the prospect of China-US relations before and after the US presidential election and how to reset the ties.

GT: Tensions between the US and China are escalating at a dizzying pace. What will come next? Will US President Donald Trump take more radical measures to make China-US relations into a tougher time in the following months before election?

Taylor: We know where Trump stands. He and his party have made it quite clear that China will be front and center as an issue during the fall. After three years of increasingly harsh rhetoric and actions, this should come as little surprise. Concentrating on China helps deflect criticism from American voters’ who are dissatisfied with Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the economy. Given what we’ve seen since 2017, China should be prepared for anything – from further calls to decouple to imposing further sanctions on Chinese imports and officials to pushing the limits of the One China Policy. Buckle-up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

GT: Trump and Biden are competing with each other over who is tougher on China. How do you see the role of the “China topic” in the US election?

Taylor: China will be one of the most discussed issues during the election. If the rhetoric from the Republican convention was any indication, Trump will continue to blame China for a host of ills in the US. As for Biden, his party will also take a hard-line stand during the election in order to avoid attacks from Trump for being “soft” on China.

I would suggest to those Chinese observing the US election that they try not to take the heated rhetoric personally. It’s quite understandable if the contentiousness of American politics is particularly unsettling when one of the top campaign issues in the US happens to be your home country. Take light notice of it and pursue a wait-and-see approach with the election.

GT: There is a view that no matter if Trump or Biden get elected, it will be hard to fix China-US relations. What’s your take? How will different election results affect the future of bilateral relations?

Taylor: That’s a prudent view for China to take and expect. If Trump wins, it will probably be an easy answer about the future of China-US relations: We’ll likely see more of the same chaos and aggressiveness that has defined China-US relations during the first three years of the Trump administration. The question is what happens with a Biden victory. In the short-term, we’ll likely not see much of a change. In fact, it could be almost as harsh as Trump’s, if for no other reason that it will take time to revise policies and rebalance the relationship. But a Biden victory has the potential to create a realistic reset of China-US relations in the long-term.

GT: China and the US now have conflicts in a string of areas such as economics, technology, political systems, ideology, and international leadership. In which areas can conflicts like these be eased? Which areas might see intensified conflict?

Taylor: I think that there are areas where conflict between China and the US can be eased, particularly on trade, cybersecurity, human trafficking, illegal drugs, intellectual property, and the Korean Peninsula. Unfortunately, there are areas where conflict between China and the US may likely intensify – at least under Trump – including the South China Sea, cross-Straits relations, and technology.

GT: The Trump administration believes that the policy of engagement with China pursued by successive US administrations since President Nixon’s has not produced its goal and has failed. How do you see this? Can the legacy of decades of engagement still be saved?

Taylor: I think that the Trump administration is mistaken. Almost fifty years of engagement has been beneficial for both countries – from direct foreign investment to bilateral trade to educational exchanges to cultural understanding. I strongly believe that this legacy of engagement can and must be saved. The stakes are too high. But it’s going to take some effort on the part of both sides to overcome mistrust and harsh rhetoric. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

GT: You said in an interview that China’s effort to fix the trajectory of the relationship is currently being met with what appears to be US indifference. To what extent will China’s efforts influence the bilateral relations?

Taylor: China can only do so much. It’s going to take a change of mind-set within the US leadership to fix the trajectory of China-US relations. Assuming a Biden victory, it would really help if there was an early meeting with President Xi Jinping in order to begin the reset. If Trump were to somehow win reelection, then expect a continued downward trajectory. If the world’s most important bilateral relationship is going to work, the US will have to meet China halfway. That means showing a level of courtesy, legitimacy, and respect that is due to a great power. There has to be a willingness to show flexibility. Will China and the US always agree? Of course not. But a reset in relations, one that’s marked by mutual respect and a recognition that each side has differing, but legitimate, views would go a long way toward righting the relationship.

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