HomeOpEdWhat went wrong with Sherman’s visit to China?

What went wrong with Sherman’s visit to China?


Aiman Iqbal

Deputy State Secretary of the USA, Wendy Sherman visited China from 25-26 July and met with  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi along with other senior officials. The State Department reported that the meeting between Sherman and the Chinese Foreign Minister was a “frank and open discussion” about various issues. Both sides shared their concerns over issues but even as it looks good that the line of communication between China and the USA opened up, there are a lot of things about the visit that can prove that it did not go well.

The problems had started before the visit. The USA had wanted Sherman to meet Le Yucheng, a senior vice Foreign Minister but China had appointed Xie Feng for the meeting who is a lower-ranking official than Le. The meeting was arranged after it was decided that Sherman would meet with the Foreign Minister, Wang Yi too along with Xie. So it appeared that the USA was more concerned about the officials meeting Sherman than the purpose of the meeting.

Then ahead of the meeting, again the situation did not look so good when the US State Department’s spokesperson described the visit as “candid exchanges with People’s Republic of China officials to advance U.S. interests and values and to responsibly manage the relationship.” Also added that Sherman would speak with the officials of China “from a position of strength”. This statement was considered by the Chinese side as a display of arrogance from the USA. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made it clear before the visit that “we didn’t buy it in Anchorage, and we certainly wouldn’t buy that in Tianjin”, referring to the strategic dialogue held in Anchorage Alaska in March. With the stances of both countries on the meeting made clear before the visit, the expectations from the visit weren’t very high.

Now speaking of the visit itself, even though the discussions were described as “frank and open”, the meeting did not lead to anything productive. Both parties stuck with their stances on the matters. Nothing optimistic came out from it except for the hope for the opening of a line of diplomatic communication.

China still maintains its firm stance that the USA has to treat other countries equally and not act as a hegemon as the times have changed and China’s always reiterated that it sees multilateralism as the answer to current global challenges. It also expects the USA to stop applying the Western standards of human rights to the rest of the world and use that as an excuse to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs.

Sherman also made clear that the USA wants “stiff and sustained” competition with China but does not wish for that competition to evolve into a conflict. But for a country that claims that it doesn’t want a conflict, the USA is not doing enough to prove it. The approach towards the coexistence of the two states is very different from each other. China follows a policy of cooperation with the rest of the world while the USA follows a hegemonic design. Now considering this, there can’t be much hope for the future of US-China relations if both sides continue in tough competition with each other.

In the long run, having China as a competitor might not be the best option for the USA. That’s why considering the current state of affairs it appears that China’s policy of cooperation would be more beneficial for not only the two countries but also to avoid a cold-war-type situation now. For the USA to assume that it has power over China seems too idealistic to be true now. Not only is China in a far better position as compared to where the Soviet Union was, but it is also connected with the rest of the world through its projects and effective diplomacy. There is a global Belt and Road Initiative that has helped the countries to connect together with China through economic investments.

On the recent upsurge of the COVID-19 virus, both China and the US  have towards the rest of the world. The USA has highly politicized the vaccine and turned a global crisis into a big blame game while China has been cooperating with the rest of the world. Through offering medical aid and assistance to developing countries struggling with the pandemic and later by providing them with vaccines, China is winning hearts and minds. Now this vaccine cooperation makes it evident why China’s policy of cooperation is better and beneficial for all. While China took lead in providing a huge number of countries in the world with vaccines, even when there were still unvaccinated people at home, the USA had been hoarding vaccines, depriving the world of much-needed aid. This also reflects poorly on the USA’s role as the guardian of human rights who failed to think of humanity first and even now, with the origin-tracing of COVID-19 underway, the USA is more interested in politicizing the process than actually finding answers. The concern regarding the USA’s politicization of the origin-tracing process is not just opposed by China but many political leaders, academics, and experts from all over the world.

So, considering all this, when we speak of the cooperation between the two states, it can be claimed that the onus right now falls more on the USA than on China because with this line of policy it is hard for the USA to achieve a diplomatic solution to issues no matter how many dialogues take place. So if the USA is to consider cooperation with China seriously, it needs to learn lessons from this visit to make sure the path of communication and cooperation for the future is opening not narrowing. China and the USA can also set some ground rules before the meetings so provocative behavior from either side is prevented and the countries are meeting as equal sovereign powers without trying to build a perception of strength or power over each other, a mistake that made the chances of success of the visit low before it even started.

Aiman Iqbal is a final year student at Kinnaird College for Women, currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. She has also worked as a Research Intern at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies. Her research areas of interest include diplomacy and international institutions, human rights, social issues, and the environment.


**The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the magazine.

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