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Why the US-China relationship is more stable than you might think

Why the US-China relationship is more stable than you might think
Why the US-China relationship is more stable than you might think | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken in the Middle East right now. But he just came from China, Beijing and Shanghai, and the US-China relationship is what I'm thinking about. Want to give you a state of play.

It continues to be better managed and more stable than we've seen in a long time. Now, not clear that would necessarily be the case, given the number of issues and places where we have friction between these two countries. Just over the course of the last couple weeks, you've got President Biden, putting new tariffs on Chinese steel, opening a new investigation into Chinese shipbuilding. You've got this anti TikTok policy that's coming down from US Congress. You've got $2 billion in additional military aid for Taiwan from the United States. You've also got lots of criticism from the Americans on ongoing Chinese support, dual use technologies for the Russians, allowing them to better fight the war in Ukraine.

Given all of that, is the relationship starting to become much more confrontational? And the answer is not really. It's true that the Chinese foreign minister said that the Americans need to choose between having a relationship of containment and a relationship of partnership, and it's certainly true that the Americans would rather have it both ways. They want to have partnership in areas where it suits the Americans, and containment in areas where it suits the Americans. The Americans getting away with more than that than other countries can because the US is the most powerful country in the world and ultimately the Chinese need Americans more than Americans need China. Still, there's a lot of interdependence, and there is an ability to push back. How much is China actually doing that? And the answer is there's been very little direct Chinese tit for tat, despite all of the policies I just mentioned. It is true that overnight, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that there would be resolute and forceful measures if the supplemental support for Taiwan, which is a red line for the Chinese, is signed and Taiwanese assistance from the US moves ahead, and I suspect that means we're going to see some more sanctions from China against US defense contractors.

That is largely symbolic. It is a tit for tat. But on all the other policies I've mentioned that the Americans have just brought against China, we've seen Chinese focus on making their country and their economy more resilient against American efforts to contain, but not hitting the Americans back, not calibrated, moves of sanctions or reciprocal investigations. In fact, the Chinese have been pretty stable.

Also. We saw that Xi Jinping still met with Secretary of State Blinken directly, a meeting that would be very easy for the Chinese government to take down, and historically certainly wouldn't have been present if there had been a lot of tension in the relationship. They chose not to do that. And in fact, Blinken went to a record store, you know, he plays guitar and sings, and he's into music. And the coverage from the Chinese state media of that trip was very humanizing, was very friendly, frankly, better coverage of a US secretary of state than I've seen at any point since Xi Jinping has been in power. That's something it's very easy for the Chinese government to put their thumb on the scale if they want to show that they're unhappy with where the US relationship is. I think about Obama and the town hall, that he wanted to put together and the Chinese unwilling to give him the kind of coverage that the Americans at the time had wanted. You know, this is a lesser official from the US and is still getting, frankly, tremendous treatment from the Chinese government. I think that matters a lot.

Having said all of that, this is a relationship that is becoming more challenging to manage. And that's true because in the United States, whether you're Democrat or Republican, one of the very few things you can agree on in foreign policy is that there is a benefit in going after China. So the policy from the US is not just about Biden making decisions himself, but it's also about members of Congress. It's about governors. It's about the media. All of whom are taking their own shots. And they're not coordinated. Where from China, if Xi Jinping wants it, everyone basically rose in the same direction. Now, there are lots of American corporations and banks that are sending their CEOs, making trips with China right now. And there's much more people to people engagement between the two countries, something that Chinese officials are strongly focused on.

There's a lot more communication and cooperation on things like climate, as well as in response to America's fentanyl crisis, where the Chinese are shutting down the labs, the companies that have been exporting the precursor chemicals. Those things matter. They are engaged. There's also a lot of willingness of the United States, at the highest level, to provide more information to China, just on what the Americans are seeing happening around a confrontation in the Middle East that China would like to see a cease-fire for, so would the Americans at this point. And also, the Chinese don't have a lot of high level diplomats and a lot of ability to collect information that the Americans do. And when high level Americans are talking to their Chinese counterparts about the Middle East, the Chinese are very much in taking notes mode and appreciating that they're getting that information from the US.

So overall, I continue to see a lot of high level engagement that is very constructive. But coming against a relationship that has virtually no trust and where the baseline of conflict is going to pop up in a lot of different ways and a lot of different places around the world. Over time it's going to be harder to maintain that stable floor on US-China relations. But for now, I think we're likely to continue to see it, at least until elections in November.

That's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.


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