45th anniversary of China-US diplomatic ties: Return and Restart

Editor’s note: He Weiwen is a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG). The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

January 1 marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the U.S.. It has since achieved a far-reaching influence to peace and development in Asia and the world, and contributed to economic growth in both China and the U.S..

Both China and the U.S. have benefited significantly

The normalization of China-U.S. relationship helped China’s opening-up and promoted China’s process toward joining the World Trade Organization. The increasing U.S. products, technologies and services in the Chinese market also helped accelerate China’s growth. 

On the other hand, the fast-growing Chinese economy and market provided infinite business opportunities to U.S. multilateral corporations and farmers. The rapidly increasing supply of low-cost Chinese products in the U.S. benefited millions of U.S. families and end-users. 

According to Chinese customs statistics, from 1979 to 2022, China-U.S. bilateral trade jumped from $2.45 billion to $759.43 billion, a staggering growth of 309 times in 44 years, a speed never seen in world trade history. 

During the same period, Chinese exports to the U.S. grew 977 times, from $0.6 billion to $581.8 billion; while U.S. exports to China grew 94 times, from $1.86 billion to $177.6 billion. The U.S. also benefited greatly from economic cooperation with China, especially following China’s accession to WTO. 

According to U.S. official statistics, worldwide exports of U.S. goods increased from $731.3 billion in 2001 to $1.7 trillion in the first 10 months of 2023, up 130.5 percent. Its exports to China, during the same period, increased from $19.4 billion to $121.9 billion, or by 528.4 percent, four times faster. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that U.S. exports to China supported 750,000 jobs in the U.S.. A Stanford study concluded that trade with China contributed to wage-increases for 75 percent of U.S. workers. Chinese Ministry of Commerce data further showed that U.S. businesses in China reaped $700 billion in annual sales with a profit of over $50 billion in 2018.

Peaceful Coexistence: Foundation of Bilateral Relations

Over the past 45 years, China-U.S. relations have experienced repeated ups and downs, storms and fast sails intermittently. However, the general trend of moving forward remains unchanged. The fundamental guarantee is the very foundation and principles on which the joint communique of diplomatic relation is based.

First, Taiwan is part of China. The joint communique stipulates explicitly that: “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”

Second, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. The communique said that, “The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principles agreed on by the two sides in the Shanghai Communique”. The Shanghai Communique said clearly that, both China and the U.S. recognize that there are fundamental differences in their social systems and foreign policies. 

However, all countries should handle state relations according to the principles of mutual respect toward sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference of each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence.  

China and the U.S. differ in social systems, ideologies and values. However, the past 45 years have proved that as long as they abide by the UN Charter and the five principles, not only can they co-exist peacefully, but also develop comprehensive cooperation in trade, investment, education, technology, travel and people-to-people exchanges, benefiting both nations and the world.

Root Cause of the Current Tension: Shaking the Foundation of Diplomatic Relations

Ever since Donald Trump went into office in 2017, up till the Joe Biden administration, China-U.S. relationship has been sharply deteriorating. Washington has identified China as the only country “with both the intent to reshape the international order and the growing capacity to do it” and therefore, poses “the greatest geopolitical challenge to the U.S.”. 

It has repeatedly challenged China’s red line by intensifying official relations with Taiwan, increasing arms sales, and even endorsing an official trip by U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi. It has been gathering its allies to de-couple (in the name of “national security”) with China, and announced a sweeping ban of high-performance chips, AI and other high tech on China, with over 1,000 Chinese companies and institutions on the Entity List, and further high-tech investment restrictions. 

As an immediate consequence, trade between the two countries went into a free fall since late 2022. China has slipped from being the largest trading partner of the U.S. to the fourth largest. According to China customs statistics, Chinese exports to the U.S. fell by 13.8 percent year on year during the first 11 months of 2023, double the speed of the fall in global exports from China. An American Chamber of Commerce in China survey in April 2023 showed that 87 percent of surveyed were pessimistic or somewhat pessimistic over their business prospects in China.

The fundamental reason of all the current tensions and setbacks is explicitly simple and clear: Washington has been shaking the foundation of the diplomatic relationship between China and the U.S.. It is a blatant violation of diplomatic foundations when the U.S. denies China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. 

All its efforts to de-couple with China is under the narrative of “resilient supply chains” is also a blatant violation of the foundation of peaceful coexistence. It is unable to tolerate China’s development because China has different social systems, ideologies and values, compared to the U.S..

The U.S. has set up the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Communist Party of China. In that way, it utterly denies China’s sovereignty, its authority over internal affairs and its own right to government and development, toppling the UN Charter and principles of peaceful coexistence. Thus, it’s shaking the very foundation of diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

Return to the Foundation and Restart

The fruitful San Francisco meeting between China and U.S. leaders on November 15, 2023 was an encouraging milestone towards the stabilization and improvement of bilateral relations. Both presidents reaffirmed the very foundation of the diplomatic relationship, including China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, and the principles of peaceful coexistence. 

Follow-up mechanism of dialogues at the ministerial level and joint working groups is also in operation. These efforts point to a return to the foundation of diplomatic relationship set up 45 years ago. 2024 will be a year of crucial importance where both sides could adhere to that foundation. Both governments need to work hard in that direction. 

Exchanges and cooperation between state/provincial governments, business communities and peoples should develop vigorously. China, on its part, will open its door even wider and welcome American businesses to invest and operate in China, offering a fair, transparent business environment and ever-expanding market opportunities. 

As long as we return to the correct foundation and restart on the right path, China-U.S. relationship will ultimately enjoy a sound, sustainable development in the next 45 years.

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