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Cooler heads call on facilitating U.S. Congressional visits to China
Henry Wang, Susan Thornton, and Douglas Paal also praised the two powers as reserved in handling the balloon incident - perhaps prematurely?
At the specter of a repeat of the showdown triggered by the Taiwan visit by Nancy Pelosi, then Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry Huiyao Wang, the Founder and President of the non-governmental Center for China and Globalization (CCG), has boldly called for facilitating U.S. Congressional visits to China.
[Disclosure: Pekingnology is now a CCG newsletter.]
In a Feb 9 dialogue with Susan Thornton and Douglas Paal, two former senior U.S. diplomats on China, Wang said China could have more US Congress(people) and Senators - even Kevin McCarthy - to visit the Chinese mainland.
The Republican House Speaker has taken a hawkish stance on China and said he would visit Taiwan. The Chinese government has called on him not to visit Taiwan, raising Paal, former director of the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan(AIT), echoed Wang’s daring call and advised China to welcome McCarthy in Beijing with “a formal invitation to come and meet with our National People's Congress leadership and our national leadership. “
Thornton, former acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, recalled her experience of bringing Congressional delegations across China while serving in China. “It has really fallen off in the recent period. I think that should be remedied going forward if possible," she said.
CCG has been broadcasting the dialogue and its transcript domestically and internationally since Feb 10.
Wang’s audacious call may seem far-fetched, but a Politico report on January 30 quoting Rep. Michael McCaul, the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), said Qin Gang, then Chinese ambassador to the U.S. and now China’s Foreign Minister, had invited the noted Republican hawk to visit China.
Officials from the Chinese embassy have been briefing media and policymakers in recent weeks, saying they want to avoid a further deterioration in commercial relations that has seen some Chinese firms (perhaps fearing TikTok’s fate) hesitate to invest in the U.S.
That campaign has gone far enough to reach even committed China hawks like McCaul, who said he recently found himself face-to-face with an unexpectedly friendly Chinese ambassador at a social function.
“We were at the international club and our Israeli ambassador said let me introduce you to the ambassador from China,” McCaul recounted. “I said I’m not sure he likes me a whole lot.”
But much to McCaul’s surprise, then-ambassador Qin Gang was all smiles.
“The Chinese ambassador said, I’d love to talk to you anytime, please come through,” McCaul said, “and then the next week he became the Foreign Minister of China, and they want us to go visit China.”
The HFAC chair won’t be going to mainland China anytime soon, his staff confirmed.
Shortly after the U.S. shooting down what Beijing said was a civilian airship’s unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure, Wang, Thornton, and Paal said both sides were reserved in handling the matter that had postponed a Beijing visit by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Washington described it as a surveillance balloon intruding into U.S. airspace.
And the thing that I take away from this weekends episode, which temporarily has put off Blinken’s visit to Beijing, is that both sides were careful in the aftermath and as the events unfolded, to not choose the language that the competition starkly or to issue ultimatums, rather sort of try to stay in touch with each other so that we did not see what isn't quite emotionally received by the American public and media as something as a precursor to sharpened conflict between the two sides. I think both sides succeeded in preventing emotion from riding on a herd, from making the kind of statements that would be regretted later. But we've still got a lot to patch together.
I think that the response to the balloon incident was quite reserved as far as I can see from the Chinese side as well.
I agree that it was handled with quite a bit of care and thoughtfulness, I think, on the U.S. side and on the Chinese side. I was quite taken by the Chinese statement that it was an accident, force majeure, that there was regret that it went into US airspace, and a full admission that it was China’s balloon and that they regretted that it had happened. I think what I hope is that we could use this incident as a way to try to make communications more sustainable and more stable and more effective between our two sides.
Since CCG broadcast the dialogue, the U.S. has shot down three unidentified flying objects on Feb. 10, 11, and 12 in North American airspace without identifying their origins.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the US has flown balloons into its airspace more than 10 times in the past year.
"Since last year alone, US balloons have illegally flown above China more than 10 times without any approval from Chinese authorities," Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing on Monday.
Adrienne Watson, White House National Security Council Spokesperson, fired back saying “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false. It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across 5 continents.”
U.S. and Chinese diplomats are now weighing the first meeting after the balloon drama at the upcoming Munich Security Conference, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
In the dialogue, Paal said the two sides “still have a path ahead” and “it's gonna take some time, maybe some healing before the visit gets back on the schedule.”
And we can start to proceed toward a meeting between the two Presidents in the United States, which we anticipate in November in San Francisco when the United States serves as host of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum leaders’ meeting, that's all to be set in the future, but the long term trend in the US-China relationship was to work toward making that a reasonably fruitful period in which to get a better grip on emphasizing communication and avoiding conflict while continuing to compete with each other.
Thornton noted that the a large part of the enormous difficulty in China-U.S. relations coincided with COVID-19. “So we were having absolutely no face to face communications, causing all kinds of problems,” she said.
we had a couple of big, exogenous events that have really impinged on our ability to work together on some of these constructive areas. And I think it's very frustrating for people in both countries who are looking for some kind of indicators about hopefulness for the future, working on some of these global problems, getting some progress. So I really do subscribe still to the co-evolution notion that in order to have the kind of world, we're still gonna remain linked, we're not going to decouple.
Paal advised the two sites to start from something small but tangible, saying
I think that both of our countries have worked hard to lower expectations for the future. I think the world will breathe a great sigh of relief if we stop making things worse and can sort of stabilize where we're at. My goal would be to instruct each traveling minister or secretary of the cabinet to have one outcome of consequential nature. Small is better than nothing. Large would be great, but let's be realistic and have something accomplished. During Yellen's visit, for example, we've talked about the Club of Rome, which is a big issue for me. China has all but become a member of the Club of Rome. It's only internal and international practices as it's experienced more as a credit donation in these difficult investment environments around the world and getting closer to the Club of Paris and finding a way to articulate that would be a concrete result of a visit by Janet Yellen.
Then as each subsequent visitor goes back and forth, try to find something that says, at least they can get the minimum done, get a little bit of work done. And it's not continuing to spiral into the ground. I think that would be my high expectation for a year of low expectations.
Wang said China and the U.S. need “more understanding, clarification, and communication now.”
Now, we still hope that Blinken can visit, as he said, as soon as possible. And we have more US senior officials on trade and investment and treasury visit China. And vice versa, Chinese Ministers and vice premier visit the US. Let's also have G20 summit in India in September, that based probably US, Chinese Presidents can be together. And also in the APEC, in November.
So I see 2023 is crucial to put the floor and maybe elevate a bit, stabilize, probably. Let's stabilize that. Not with big hope there, but let's stabilize that. So that we can not let (it) deteriorate and we can work together a more urging multi-front on more important issues around us.
For a summary and transcript of the dialogue
A recap of the last Pekingnology newsletter