Can China’s new ambassador help bolster frosty relations with the United States?

There are signs of deepening mistrust between the United States and China even as the Biden administration and Beijing appeared to be working to restart high-level talks.

President Joe Biden predicted this weekend a “thaw very soon” between Washington and Beijing, the two largest economies in the world.

The arrival of Xie Feng, Beijing’s new ambassador to Washington on Tuesday, was a possible sign of warming relations, but the new envoy said the relationship between the two countries faced “serious difficulties and challenges.”

“We hope the United States will work hand in hand with China to increase dialogue, manage differences and also to respect our cooperation so that our relationship can get back on track,” he told a small crowd of mostly reporters at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport before climbing into a pickup truck with aides. and members of his family.

Xie Feng, the new Chinese ambassador to the United States, speaks in Hong Kong on February 7, 2020. Philip Fung/AFP via Getty Images

While Xi has been cautiously optimistic, a senior Chinese diplomat recently shared a bleaker assessment of US-China relations in a press briefing.

“Bilateral relations have once again been frozen,” the Chinese diplomat told NBC News, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Conflicting signals serve to show the state of relations between the two countries.

Beijing reacted furiously to last weekend’s Group of Seven, or G7, summit in Hiroshima, Japan, which pledged to cooperate with China economically, but was tougher on areas including “economic coercion,” human rights, Taiwan, Tibet and Hong Kong. Kong, Beijing’s growing emphasis. in the South China Sea.

Beijing described the official statement as “lies and lies”.

Things were looking up six months ago after Biden met President Xi Jinping in Indonesia, raising hopes of a new chapter. But relations have deteriorated to their lowest point in decades, and a planned trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing was canceled after a “spy balloon” allegedly collecting information was spotted by flying over sensitive US military sites in February.

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China, which apologized for the incident shortly after the ship appeared over the west coast but later took a more defensive stance, said it was a civilian unmanned weather balloon.

Biden and Xi met on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on November 14, raising hopes of an improvement in relations between the two countries.Alex Brandon/AP File

An hours-long meeting between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, on May 11 reignited expectations for new high-level talks. A few days ago, after a practical freeze on high-level diplomatic contacts between the two countries, the US Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing. Then came the angry G-7 and China reaction this weekend.

But before high-level diplomacy can move forward — with a visit by a member of Biden’s cabinet to Beijing or a call between Biden and Xi — there are a number of hurdles that China believes must be addressed, according to the Chinese diplomat who spoke to NBC News, as well as public comments. to Chinese state media and officials.

The unnamed Chinese diplomat, who is based in Washington, highlighted three examples of “concerns that have not yet been addressed by the American side.”

Among these, they said, is the FBI’s investigation of a Chinese balloon that was shot down by the United States. Privately, Chinese officials express concern that the publication of this investigation could force either side into an embarrassing cancellation of another meeting or call between Xi and Biden.

The Biden administration has indicated it wants to move forward.

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At the G7, Biden dismissed the so-called spy balloon as a “silly balloon”. Meanwhile, Blinken did not mention it in his opening remarks at a congressional hearing last week.

Another concern, the unnamed Chinese diplomat said “Not yet addressed by the American side” are the “false accusations,” in the words of the diplomat, that China runs illegal police stations in New York and elsewhere around the world. The FBI has arrested two people accused of running one of these police stations in New York, just one of dozens of similar investigations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. China says the stations are there to help expatriates with administrative issues.

And the diplomat appears to be ruling out a phone call with Biden Xi in the near future.

“It is hoped that the United States will work with China to address the issues in the relationship, and create favorable conditions for future interactions between the two senior leaders,” the diplomat added.

Favorable conditions will be difficult to achieve, not least because politicians in the United States have largely come together around the issue of China.

Rep. Nancy Mays said in response to the diplomat’s remarks, “China is an adversary to the United States in every way.”

“We cannot afford to be complacent or passive in the face of China’s continued aggression,” she added in a statement to NBC News.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Trump, a longtime China hawk, stressed the importance of a bipartisan approach to Beijing earlier in May.

“If we rest in America on our laurels,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party, “if we let the Chinese Communist Party defeat us, it will have dire consequences for the democratic countries of the world.”

US Navy sailors off the coast of South Carolina retrieve parts of a “spy balloon” on February 5.Petty Officer 1 Tyler Thompson / US Navy

Meanwhile, China seems to believe it can forge closer ties with the United States’ European allies.

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A series of Chinese diplomats have toured the continent, including Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Central Committee for Foreign Affairs. Li Hui, China’s envoy to Ukraine, will continue touring Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France and Russia this week.

At the G7, an idea promoted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gained momentum. Instead of “decoupling” from China, the West should “decouple” trade in industries where national interests are at stake. In other words, Europe must continue dialogue and trade with China, but also defy Beijing when necessary and protect its vital industries.

It comes as Europe and the US are closing in on the topic of China, according to Ian Bremer, president of the political risk advisory and research firm. eurasia group, Author of Superpower: Three Options for America’s Role in the World and a frequent commentator on world affairs.

“China is building up its economic power in ways that all G7 allies find problematic,” he said on Tuesday.

But Von der Leyen, and Europe in general, is not hard enough on China for many in Washington.

“Our European allies need to make a decision,” said Mies. “They have to choose to side with China or side with the United States, and we can’t let them keep playing both sides.”

And if the Chinese state-controlled media is taken as a barometer of the elite’s view of the United States and the state of the relationship, no one in Beijing is holding their breath.

According to an article published by Xinhua earlier, “Talking for the sake of talking will not do much to remove obstacles in the way of a healthy relationship, which requires concrete steps for Washington to show complete sincerity and fulfill its promises.” Month.

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