Leaders in Beijing say they want better relations with the United States. Yet so far there is little concrete evidence that they are willing to change their bad behavior one iota, or even cooperate honestly on the global pandemic their actions helped spawn.
The only way to have better U.S.-China relations is for Beijing to be a better partner and a better global citizen. Absent that, tensions will continue to rise.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Hawaii last week for several hours of meetings and dinner. U.S. officials said Beijing requested the meeting because China is looking for a way to rachet down the rhetoric and mutual recriminations that have come to characterize the bilateral relationship since the covid-19 pandemic erupted.
Until recently, President Xi Jinping could have simply reached out to President Donald Trump. But Trump has said he's not interested in speaking with Xi since their call on March 27. Their agreement on that call to play nice lasted about three weeks.
Now, as countries around the world are reassessing their approach to China, Beijing is reaching out to Pompeo, the man China's state media in recent weeks called "wicked," "deranged" and "the public enemy of mankind."
Open diplomatic channels are positive, and there was no reason for Pompeo to refuse the meeting. But based on the official readouts, it's clear no progress was made. The State Department's statement said the two leaders "exchange[d] views," and Pompeo stressed the need for China to stop its unfair practices in the commercial, security and diplomatic sectors.
"He also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks," the statement said.
Beijing still won't come clean with what it knows about the origins of the virus, won't share early virus samples, and won't publish honest statistics about its own outbreak. A report this week by the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican members details how.
According to China's foreign ministry, Yang told Pompeo he wanted better ties but defended China's stance on every issue of contention, including the new national security law for Hong Kong, Beijing's increasing intimidation of Taiwan, and the Chinese government's internment of millions of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
Beijing's pattern is familiar: Insult or attack anyone who criticizes Beijing's bad actions, decry the high state of tensions, then offer to go back to business as usual without offering to do one thing differently. But this time, there is no returning to business as usual.
Some reports claim that China's leaders might now prefer Trump to be re-elected, because his chaotic presidency creates space for China's power and influence to rise. But take a look at the ad by his rival Joe Biden--it criticizes Trump for being too weak on China, especially in respect to the novel coronavirus.
Polls show Americans in both parties are realizing that China's bad behavior is a problem we can no longer ignore.