Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo (second right), believes a breakthrough in the trade war is possible. Photo: AFP / Daisuke Suzuki
Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo (second right), believes a breakthrough in the trade war is possible. Photo: AFP / Daisuke Suzuki

Poetry? Proverb? Cliche? “Hope springs eternal” is part of a rhyming couplet from An Essay on Man by the poet Alexander Pope, a central figure in the Neoclassical movement of the early 18th century.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast, 

Man never is, but always to be blest …

Poetic sentiments which appear to mirror a softening in the diplomatic rhetoric between China and the United States as the trade war drags on into the winter.

Yet as a proverb and later a cliche to express renewed optimism, “hope springs eternal’’ graphically illustrates the mood of top diplomat Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, a member of the powerful Politburo.

After his meeting with US National Security Adviser John Bolton at the White House, Yang was upbeat about solving a brutal economic conflict following a summer of discontent and an autumn of bickering.

Involved in outlining an agenda for the planned mini summit between China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at the G20 gathering of global leaders in Buenos Aires later this month, he called for “cooperation” and “dialogue.”

Economic Cold War

“The two sides [should] strengthen communication and coordination, promote dialogue and manage differences properly,” he told Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

“We must carefully prepare for the meeting of the two heads of state … [as] the nature of the China-US trade relationship is mutually beneficial. Both sides have to work out an acceptable solution through negotiations on an equal and mutually beneficial basis,” Yang, who is also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, said.

Back in Beijing, State Councillor Wang talked on Thursday about moves to thaw out the economic Cold War and “develop bilateral ties” after last week’s telephone call between Xi and Trump.

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He echoed Yang’s positive approach to the up and coming talks and felt a breakthrough could be achieved.

“We believe that a meeting will help chart the course for China-US relations,” Wang said. “That will be of great significance for both sides to manage differences effectively and resolve issues in a practical way.”

But this will not be easy.

Earlier this week, the former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned of the risks of an “Iron Curtain” descending between the world’s two largest economies unless China carried out its repeated commitment to reforms.

“If China doesn’t move quickly, I suspect the calls for divorce will intensify,” Paulson said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore.

Tit-for-tat tariffs

“And that is why I now see the prospect of an Economic Iron Curtain – one that throws up new walls on each side and unmakes the global economy, as we have known it,” he added. “There is no doubt in my mind that how the United States deals with China, and how they deal with us, will shape the geopolitical landscape for this century.”

The past 10 months have been fraught with a series of punitive tit-for-tat tariffs.

During the summer, Trump rolled out plans to increase duties on goods and products worth nearly US$250 billion with the threat of more to come on virtually all of China’s imports into the US.

At the same time, the Chinese economy has shown distinct signs of cooling, weighed down by a dispute with no end in sight. Finding a compromise has become a priority.

Yet as Pope pointed out in An Essay on Man:

Who sees with equal eye, as God of all, 

A hero perish, or a sparrow fall, 

Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d, 

And now a bubble burst, and now a world.

It appears the philosophy behind “hope springs eternal” will only take you so far.

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