Winston Churchill is credited with saying “It’s better to jaw-jaw than war-war.” It is very much better indeed when two protagonists are armed with nuclear weapons, say like the U.S. and China.
It was refreshing therefore to hear that the two great powers are going to do a lot more jawing. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo ended her visit to China recently on a high note, announcing that the two countries have agreed to hold regular conversations about commercial issues and restrictions on access to advanced technology.
Two dialogues are to be established: a working group that includes business representatives to focus on commercial issues, and a governmental information exchange on U.S. enforcement of its export controls.
“I think it’s a very good sign that we agreed to concrete dialogue, and I would say, more than just kind of nebulous commitments to continue to talk.” said Ms. Raimondo.
In turn, China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, said that China is willing to work with the United States to create a sound policy environment for business cooperation between the countries.
The commerce secretary’s trip follows others over the past three months by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and the president’s climate envoy, John Kerry.
Bilateral talks about a variety of economic issues were once the norm between the two powers, but a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi and the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon put a serious damper on dialogue.
Not all American politicians are enthusiastic about the thawing relations. Republicans have criticized the arrangements, accusing Ms. Raimondo of making concessions for little in return. The commerce secretary countered by saying business leaders are telling her they want more channels of communication, adding that “What comes from lack of communication is mis-assessment, miscalculation and increased risk.”
Conservative opposition to dialogue is echoed in this country with our federal Conservatives calling Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault’s visit to China a betrayal of democracy and the environment. Guilbeault is attending the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development annual general meeting. Guilbeault correctly points out, ”There is no solution to the global nature and biodiversity crisis without working with countries like India, China and Brazil.”
Nor are there solutions to the global economic problems without working with China. As Ms. Raimondo puts it, “The U.S.-China commercial relationship is one of the most globally consequential, and managing that relationship responsibly is critical to both our nations and indeed to the whole world.” With the Chinese economy currently faltering this may be an opportune time for negotiation.
The world’s two largest economies remain deeply intertwined. Imports to the U.S. directly from China have declined but growing imports from other countries such as Mexico and Vietnam are increasingly made by Chinese factories there.
We have serious problems with China, particularly with their efforts to undermine democracy, including meddling with ours, but we also have powerful interests in common, such as global warming, declining biodiversity and a sustainable economy. We need to jaw-jaw about about all of these even as we counter their mischief.