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Partnership between rivals

Guilherme Rego

“US-China relations have begun to stabilize,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on his second visit to China. Then he added: “The negative factors in relations continue to increase.” These statements, paradoxical in any other context, fit the relationship between the two powers like a glove. Ten months ago, Blinken became the first US Secretary of State to visit Beijing in the last five years. Since then, several other trips have been made by representatives of the two governments; there was even a meeting between Biden and Xi in San Francisco. Although they have resumed communication at the highest level, even military level, the issues separating the two powers remain fractious. For both, there are “red lines” that are constantly being crossed.

China is the biggest threat to US hegemony, and from this comes a rare bipartisan consensus in the US Congress. It should be noted that not even the conflict in Ukraine enjoys the same status among Democrats and Republicans. The latest victim was TikTok – owned by the Chinese company ByteDance – which has a year to sell the app or close its activity on American soil. This is because, in the eyes of the legislative body, TikTok is a threat to US national security. As a result, 170 million users will be forced to “migrate”, most likely to platforms owned by Meta (Facebook) – Mark Zuckerberg’s US company – which is obviously a win-win situation for the US. Curiously, the application that is a threat to national security continues to be used by the current US President for election campaign purposes. On the other side, and after the decision to ban TikTok, Elon Musk went to China, met with Chinese officials, and came away with an agreement with Baidu, allowing Tesla to increase its influence in the Chinese market.

Blinken went to China at the invitation of the Chinese authorities, but according to the Western press, he went to Beijing to issue ultimatums: don’t interfere in the presidential elections and stop supporting Russia in the war with Ukraine. And he did. On both issues, China refutes the accusations. Also at the same time, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to Beijing to condemn China’s excess production capacity, alleging unfair competition fueled by government subsidies. She also took the opportunity to meet with US executives, and others, to convey to Beijing that this is not just a US concern.

What at first seemed like a coherent discourse on both sides of recognizing differences, is beginning to show its cracks. I’m not convinced with a world where the two sides don’t understand each other, are always on the opposite side of the barricade, but respect that difference. On some issues, this narrative is even counterproductive, because as long as it doesn’t escalate into an armed conflict, then everything becomes acceptable. The blindness of economic and commercial rivalry still doesn’t allow us to see the benefits of a win-win partnership. There will always be competition, everyone will always give priority to their populations – it’s not realistic to ask for the opposite. In the meetings during Blinken’s second visit, it was agreed to strengthen cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Perhaps only in this way can we see new horizons in relations – let time bring a new, closer and more understanding generation.

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Generalist media, focusing on the relationship between Portuguese-speaking countries and China.

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