China’s Milder Tone in Messaging Ahead of Potential US Visit for APEC

As 2023 begins, China’s leaders have adopted a milder tone in their messaging. This shift has led analysts to speculate that it could be an attempt to prepare for a potential visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post that “The planet’s future depends on a stable China-U.S. relationship.” In the article, he also highlighted his positive experiences during his 17 months as China’s ambassador to the U.S., including driving a John Deere tractor in Iowa and visiting a corn farm in Missouri.

President Xi Jinping’s New Year’s message adopted a milder tone on the topic of Taiwan, avoiding the use of the word “reunification” and stating that “The people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are members of the same family,” a departure from previous years when he used strong language about “One country, two systems.”

Professor Zhu of Toyo Gakuen University in Tokyo believes that China’s milder approach to Taiwan in the New Year’s message may be due to the upcoming Taiwan elections in 2024 and that President Xi Jinping does not want to repeat the outcome of the previous elections. Meanwhile, Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, has predicted that China will seek to stabilize its relations with the U.S. in the short and potentially medium term.

China Expected to Maintain Mild Approach towards US Despite Domestic Challenges

According to Kurt Campbell, the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, China’s “wolf-warrior diplomacy” has been ineffective in recent years and has hurt the nation’s soft power. Campbell also pointed out that China is facing internal challenges, such as a slowing economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the country to seek a more stable and predictable relationship with the United States. Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, echoed this sentiment and added that a calmer external environment might benefit President Xi Jinping’s chances of receiving preferential treatment from U.S. President Joe Biden during his potential visit to the U.S. in November for the APEC leader’s meeting.

China is likely to maintain a gentle approach towards the U.S. even after the APEC meeting in November due to the country’s domestic challenges, according to Masafumi Ishii, an extraordinary adjunct professor at Tokyo’s Gakushuin University. However, Ishii noted that China would eventually challenge the U.S. again as the nation’s economy and national power approaches that of the U.S. Toyo Gakuen’s Zhu said that when President Xi visits the U.S. for the APEC summit in San Francisco, he will try to convey to the American people that China is not an enemy and does not want the competition to reach a point of no return. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to China in the first quarter of 2023 will provide an opportunity for the U.S. to advance its priorities with China, according to Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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