At the outset of Joe Biden’s presidency, many people hoped that relations between the United States and China, after four years of battering, would slowly start to improve. That has not been the case.
“The one thing that has held over from Trump to Biden is that the US is doing a bad job talking to our own people about China,” Alan Bersin, executive chair of the supply chain software Altana AI and a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said last week during a discussion as part of The New York Times’ annual DealBook DC policy forum.
The communication breakdown between the two countries is bad for diplomacy and for the economy, but some experts believe a tough-on-China message is needed. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Who was also part of the discussion at the forum, said there was some overarching bipartisan agreement on China issues that does not exist in other areas.
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“We have to confront a Chinese regime that is telling us every day they are not only going to take our lunch, but the entire global economy,” Casey said.
Later this month, the United States and China may face another looming threat in their already fraught relations: A US law will go into effect that will likely ban most imports from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, which is home to much of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority population and the source of accusations of forced labor. China has denied those allegations and has vowed to retaliate if US law is enforced. Bersin said there was a general uncertainty from both the US private sector and the Chinese about what might happen then.
Restrictions on traveling during the early part of the pandemic made maintaining the relationship close to impossible, and the US ‘standing within China became progressively worse over misinformation being spread in the United States about the coronavirus.
“Being blamed by some US lawmakers for purposely unleashing a deadly virus on its own population to infect the West, which is obviously ludicrous, has caused the once-positive image of the US for the average Chinese citizen to fade,” said Robert Daly. director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. “All they hear from us is simplistic bad Chinese rhetoric.”
The answer to start mending relations between the two global powers is to try to create a dialogue between the average Chinese citizen and the average American, said Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There is very little interaction between the two populations right now,” she said.
Her proposal: The US government should fund a US-centric, Chinese language media outlet that could give Chinese citizens a more complete picture of what is being said about China in America. Even if it were censored in China, the broadcast could be accessed by some Chinese citizens when they traveled abroad.
Cheng Li, a scholar in residence at the Brookings Institution who studies the Chinese middle class, supported the proposal, saying, “The Chinese middle class does want to engage with the US, and lots of Chinese citizens are educated in the US”
But while encouraging more conversation between America and Beijing may be a good thing overall, some fear that opening up communication channels will leave Americans vulnerable to Chinese government-sponsored misinformation campaigns. Renée DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that although Chinese misinformation campaigns were not as active as those from Russia, China had engaged in similar attempts to use fake social media accounts to influence US public opinion.
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