In the midst of a challenging year where the world was tested by the impacts of COVID-19, global leaders and experts recognized the unprecedented changes facing the U.S.-China relationship and urged the two countries to work together to usher stability and security back into the international community. Following the inauguration of United States President Joe Biden, distinguished experts gathered virtually on January 26- 28, 2021 to assess the future of bilateral relations by examining key issues and areas of cooperation in CUSEF’s second international forum “Hong Kong Forum on U.S.-China Relations” co-hosted with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE).
2020 was a year of unprecedented turmoil. The pandemic sent humanity a message: the world is fundamentally changing, and the U.S.-China relationship remains the world’s most crucial partnership. Themed “U.S.-China Relations: The Way Forward”, the Forum featured over 40 major stakeholders and influencers in the U.S.-China relationship including former Prime Minister of Japan Yasuo Fukuda, CCIEE Chairman and former PRC Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan, former Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, current government officials, senior business leaders, and renowned scholars from the United States, China, and other Asia Pacific countries who came together virtually in an effort to address the current challenges facing bilateral relations. The discussion focused on how China and the U.S. should move forward in light of the incoming U.S. administration and used the opportunity to identify areas of cooperation between the two countries to tackle global challenges, including climate change, the environment, food security, cyber security and COVID-19.
Ex-Japanese PM: problems cannot be solved without the U.S.
Former Prime Minister of Japan Yasuo Fukuda stressed that less division and instability is something all nations are seeking given the risks and problems that need to be resolved immediately. These cannot be solved without the support of the U.S. and its leadership, especially when it comes to international trade and finance. However, he also noted that, “the U.S. must first contain the biggest issue – COVID-19, before it can help the rest of the world”.
Aside from the pandemic, speakers conveyed their desire for progress through continued dialogue between U.S. and Chinese officials. Although there was a general sense of optimism around the new U.S. administration, speakers also spoke candidly of the challenges that will remain on both sides while emphasizing the importance of global governance during an era of heightened risk.
“I don’t think there will be a major change between China and U.S. relations despite the new administration. However, there will be more dialogue,” said Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission. “The tensions within the U.S. and competition with China are prevalent amongst both the Republicans and Democrats. Thus, there will be a necessity for deeper dialogue and exchange of views.”
This exchange of views must happen “not just by words, but by deeds”, agreed former U.S. Ambassador to China and former U.S. Senator Max Baucus. Though the future of the relationship remains uncertain, the President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) Wang Chao expressed his confidence in the foundation of the U.S.-China relations, which has been “built through our joint efforts over generations.”
Mr. Wang added that goodwill shall remain unchanged and cooperation will prevail.
U.S.-China decouple? Ex-U.S. Secretary of Commerce: China is not an enemy
Adding to the optimism and hope for progress in both trade and policy negotiations between the U.S. and China, CCIEE Chairman Zeng Peiyan said that in order to seek win-win cooperation, China and the U.S. must first rebuild mutual trust by restarting and improving multi-level engagement mechanisms and ultimately, using that dialogue as the fundamental conduit to address issues and challenges in order to play a leading role in managing relations. He also stressed that the two countries must “reshape and restart economic and trade relations, which have always been the ballast and stabilizer of the overall relationship.”
Emphasizing the detrimental effects of a complete U.S.-China decoupling, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said that this bilateral relationship should not be one based solely on transactions, but rather one that encourages a more strategic partnership, which increases areas of collaboration while eradicating areas of friction.
“When you call someone an enemy, they become your enemy. We [U.S.] are not an enemy of China, and I don’t think China is an enemy of us. Words matter,” Gutierrez remarked.
Former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills echoed this same sentiment. She predicted that there will be significant changes in how the U.S. handles its international relationships. In her eyes, “the tone in which we deal with all international governments, including China, will be more diplomatic.”
Global harmony and the Rules-based system
Both President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden were the topic of several discussions during the Forum. Founder and Chairman of CUSEF Tung Chee-hwa outlined how the two countries share mutual goals while he underscored the need for all nations to abide by the same rules-based system. He noted that China will work to protect the rules-based system and maintain global harmony. Addressing areas of cooperation, Mr. Tung explained that, “President Biden has said that his four priorities are the pandemic, the economy, climate change, and racial injustice. There is no question that the two countries can work together in at least the first three priorities.”
In Mr Tung’s opinion, “It is time to turn the page of the negatives of the past few years and start to work with one another again,” which offered renewed hope for the future of the U.S.-China relationship.
During the closing, Mr. Tung reiterated the importance of productive dialogue and thanked the speakers for their insightful input throughout the three days.
“Indeed, our many speakers and panelists have pointed out what should be done. If I were to summarize their thoughts expressed in these three days...return to the dialogue table, restore respect and trust, allow competition and cooperation to coexist. Let’s work together now. The road is not easy, but together we will find a way,” Mr Tung concluded.