Hong Kong Forum on U.S.-China Relations 2022 Optimism Remains for a Brighter Bilateral Relationship


Despite the ongoing challenges in China and U.S. relations, some optimism remains around recent progress made between the two countries in key areas. During the three-day virtual forum “Beyond Differences, Towards Cooperation” hosted by the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), world leaders and political influencers discussed areas of cooperation within China-U.S. relations and noted where and how progress can be made especially in regards to economic recovery, trade, climate change, and fostering cultural exchanges.

Over the course of 2021, economic recovery began in the midst of market volatility and the U.S.-China trade war, but the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains, increase inflation, and affect global markets. Although the future state of the economy remains uncertain, China and the U.S. are the most capable to boost economic recovery. Experts including Charles Boustany, Former U.S. House Representative, and John Zhao, Founder and Chairman of Hony Capital, agree that Section 301 Tariffs, put into place by the United States Trade Representative by order of former President Trump, have not only hurt China, but also the American consumer. For political reasons, the consensus is that the current administration isn’t doing anything to get the Section 301 Tariffs removed. A new cooperation is the hope moving forward but fear of protectionism in the U.S. along with a “soft on China” sentiment, may slow the process. Peter Wong, Non-executive Chairman of HSBC Asia Pacific detailed how money goes where the opportunities lie, and that will be the driving force now and, in the future, but the central theme remains how cooperative both countries will be moving forward, while China hopes it can be given a seat at the negotiating table.

Global supply chain issues are top of mind globally, which have greatly impacted both the U.S. and China. The picture many have regarding what’s happening with goods not making it to consumers either in time or not at all, are cargo ships stranded off shore, but in China, labor shutdowns due to Covid-19 are a critical factor in the supply chain issues, starting at the factory level. The overall prevailing thought by experts including David Lampton, George and Sadie Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies Emeritus at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and Zhang Yuyan, Senior Fellow and Director of Institute of World Economics and Politics at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is that the supply chain crisis is a long-term problem, especially with an overarching attitude in the U.S. to manufacture more at home and rely less on imports from China and other countries. Shortening the supply chain has been evolving in the U.S. but even if supplies once again move freely, relationship between the U.S. and China would not return to the same as before the pandemic.

Leading the high-level debate on climate, speakers including Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, highlighted that the U.S. and China are capable of working together on decarbonization and fighting climate change. Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Envoy on Climate Change outlined that in the last 12 months alone, the two countries issued a joint statement addressing climate change, followed by the U.S.-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, where the two countries agreed to work together on a framework to strengthen Paris Agreement policies and achieve climate goals. Liu Yanhua, Former Vice Minister, Ministry of Science and Technology; Former Director, National Expert Committee on Climate Change, outlined a number of immediate areas for joint cooperation, including: improvement of international governance rules; building on bilateral processes that can be pursued despite political tensions through state to province cooperation; partnering on triangular cooperation to support green development; as well as continuing track II dialogues – to help improve bilateral communication.

The three-day forum ended with a discussion on the significance of fostering people and cultural exchanges. Charles Foster, Chairman of Foster LLP; Vice-Chair of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations, made the point that positive cultural exchanges, or people to people interactions, have the power to build a foundation for mutual understanding and ultimately build empathy. Max Baucus, Former United States Ambassador to China, agreed that despite the challenges the U.S. and China face today, there are several areas in which both countries can continue to foster such exchanges, such as encouraging positive business interactions and educational exchanges for students. There are three tools that will keep China and the U.S. on track for positive cultural exchanges, explained Zhang Xinsheng, Former Vice Minister of Education, P. R. China and Former Chairman of UNESCO Executive Board, which include a commitment to engagement and dialogue, putting aside major differences, and finding converging interests.

James Chau, Editor At Large, CUSEF remained hopeful that we will begin to see the shift towards mutual understanding and further cooperation between China and the U.S. in the years to come.