During his campaign, Biden reiterated his intention to work with Beijing on matters of common interest, such as addressing global warming and the proliferation of nuclear arms, while at the same time confronting its “abusive behavior” in other realms.
A few days earlier, however, the Chinese government had already indicated that it would not cooperate on climate without Washington’s willingness to first accept Beijing’s own conditions.
“China is ready to cooperate with the United States and the international community on climate change,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said last Thursday.
He urged the Biden administration to create “favorable conditions” for cooperation. The phrase is perceived by observers to mean an acceptance or tolerance of Beijing’s controversial domestic policies, including its widely reported human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, as well as its quashing of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Global health was another area of potential cooperation between Washington and Beijing, but Blinken has stated that China’s lack of transparency, especially during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, was and continues to be a “profound problem.”
A team of 13 World Health Organization experts are currently carrying out investigations in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. Despite significant challenges posed by Chinese government restrictions and repeated delays to their work last year, the United Nations health body still hopes to gain a better understanding of where the disease came from.
Meanwhile, Beijing insists it is being transparent. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Washington should also allow WHO experts to conduct origin-tracing in the U.S., in a not-so-subtle nod at China’s oft-repeated theory about the virus’s origins in America or Europe.
Ian Easton, senior director at the Virginia-based Project 2049 Institute, told Newsweek there was “a near-zero possibility” that cooperation between Washington and Beijing in areas such as climate and global health would bear any fruit.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping‘s policies in these domains were “antithetical to the goals of President Biden,” he added. “When two governments have such divergent interests, how can they cooperate?”
“Any cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party on environmental protection and global health would be difficult to sustain at a time when Beijing is denying its complicity in the COVID-19 pandemic, exporting unsafe medical supplies, and devastating the environment by exporting dirty coal-fired electric plants to the developing world,” said Easton, who is the author of The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia.
He added: “Far better would be to cooperate with like-minded allies against CCP actions harming global health and accelerating global warming.”
Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s first national security think tank, said President Biden may seek cooperation with Beijing, “but now the ball is in China’s court.”
China will attempt to bargain for its domestic policies, he added. “But as Easton says, these domestic political issues are irreconcilable.”
Su, who is a director at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, said China seeks tolerance of its policies in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong, as well as its campaign of military pressure on Taiwan.
Secretary Blinken, however, has already sounded agreement with the former administration’s description of China’s policies in Xinjiang as “genocide,” and also said he felt America should be following the U.K. in accepting political refugees from Hong Kong.
“Biden views climate change as a common issue, and it’s best if Beijing can participate because China is among the world’s largest energy consumers. But Beijing is overly sensitive; it sees every issue as needing to be resolved all at once,” said Su.
“It maximizes its domestic politics. This makes it hard for other countries to work constructively with Beijing. Mature great powers take issues case by case. China’s approach is all-in-one,” he added.
Su said Beijing’s actions fit U.S. observations of it as an “irresponsible power.”
“If Beijing insists on trading [climate] for U.S. concerns over human rights and democracy, I think that will be very difficult to achieve,” he said.