Symbolic of Sino-American relations, the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the People's Republic of China fly next to each other on a sunny, windy day. Photo: iStock

Answering questions on the sidelines of the annual session of the national legislature on March 8, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed popular perceptions these days of China’s rise and talked about the purpose behind the Belt and Road Initiative. He also raised the possibility that the US and China could potentially be partners instead of rivals.

Held every year after the meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (popularly known as the “two sessions”), this presser usually focuses on the country’s foreign policy agenda in the year ahead, making it an event of some significance. Attended by about 600 Chinese and foreign journalists this year, the aims of China’s major-country diplomacy were highlighted and many “conspiracy theories” in circulation were laid to rest.

Ever since the BRI was launched, a ‘China threat theory’ has prevailed, especially among Western analysts. Because China maintained a sedate and non-interventionist posture for decades, its new focus on overseas development – after alleviating domestic poverty and improving its own economic stability – sparked many debates over the last two years. Reiterating that “the Belt and Road is a transparent initiative launched by China,” the foreign minister highlighted the benefits shared by all participants, whom he said were on an equal footing.

Notably, China has attempted to address common misconceptions regarding the “rivalry” between China and the United States. Often described as the world’s “most important bilateral relationship,” Sino-American ties have a trickle-down effect on many of their allies and countries globally. The two giants represent one-third of the world economy and have the two most powerful armies in the world.

China remains the largest investor in the United States, and their economies can be described as co-dependent to a certain degree where business is concerned

China remains the largest investor in the United States, and their economies can be described as co-dependent to a certain degree where business is concerned. During President Donald Trump’s visit to China in 2017, as many as 37 major China-US deals amounting to nearly US$253.5 billion were inked with big companies such as Caterpillar, Boeing, and Goldman Sachs.

In the coming months, China and the US are expected to become even more interconnected due to bilateral efforts and the four-level dialogue established since the presidential talks in April 2017. Consisting of four separate channels of communication, this mechanism has included key strategic issues, trade, diplomacy and security.

Referring to a recent Gallup poll showing that more than 50% of Americans view China favorably, Wang said more attention should be given to positive aspects of the Sino-American relationship. Stating that China had “no intention of replacing the United States” as a global power, he described China threat assessments as “fundamentally wrong,” stressing that the Asian powerhouse was focused on its own “modernization.”

He told reporters, “The bottom line is, as the world’s largest economies, China’s and America’s interests are deeply entwined.” Stressing that there was no harm in”‘healthy and positive competition,” he reiterated that “China’s development and revitalization is unstoppable.” Finally, he exhorted that “dialogue and cooperation” based on mutual respect was the best way forward.

As for the friction over the impending increase in tariffs imposed by the US, Wang reminded the press that trade wars harm the initiator as well as the target. However, as just 1.1% of China’s steel is exported to the US, any impact of such measures would be negligible, but Beijing would reserve the right to a “justified and necessary response” if such a scenario emerges. He said: “We hope China and the US will have a calm and constructive dialogue as equals and find a win-win solution.”

Pointing out the element of bias contained in insinuations regarding any power struggle, Wang said: “As China grows, the ‘China collapse theory’ has collapsed and become an international laughing stock. Meanwhile, the ‘China threat theory’ with its various sensational versions is losing the market.” Inferring that critics drawing inaccurate conclusions from China’s progressive efforts would lose credibility over time, he advised critics to try and see China’s rise as an “opportunity’” instead of a “threat,” highlighting the option of working together instead of engaging in a power struggle.

Making a  massive contribution to global economic growth in recent years and being responsible for more than 70% of poverty alleviation globally, China has reason to take pride in its development efforts. It also provides more peacekeepers than other members of the UN Security Council and it remains the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget. Wang said, “China’s contribution is bigger than that of the United States, Japan and the eurozone combined.”

Since the US and China have enjoyed good diplomatic relations for 38 years, Beijing would obviously like to see bilateral ties between the two powers evolve positively even though they have different systems and modes of development. Focusing more on what they have in common could help their relationship rise above distrust and lay the groundwork for a new beginning.

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Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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