China must show it is not an “agent of instability” in Taiwan, says US ambassador to China

“We do not believe that a crisis should arise in US-China relations due to the visit – a peaceful visit – of the speaker of the House of Representatives to Taiwan … it was a fabricated crisis by the government in Beijing. was an overreaction,” Burns told CNN on Friday from the US embassy.

Now, “the government here in Beijing has an obligation to convince the rest of the world that it will act peacefully in the future,” the ambassador said.

“I think there’s a lot of concern in the world that China has now become an agent of instability in the Taiwan Strait and it’s not in anyone’s interest.”

Burns, a career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, arrived in Beijing in March to take on what is arguably the most important U.S. diplomatic post, managing U.S.-China relations, which were already strained by tensions over a number of issues, including person in China. record, trading practices and military expansion in the South China Sea.

Strict China-imposed Covid-19 restrictions have also curtailed diplomatic travel to and from China, placing Burns even more at the forefront of resolving an increasingly contentious relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

This became clear on the night of August 2, when Burns received a call to meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, as he describes it, just as the plane carrying Pelosi and her congressional delegation landed in Taipei.

“We had a very lively, I would say quite contentious meeting,” Burns said, describing for the first time in detail that discussion, which was confirmed at the time by both Washington and Beijing.

“I defended the speaker. I defended her right to travel to Taiwan. I have defended the peace and stability that we have had in the Taiwan Strait for nearly six decades,” Burns said, adding that he challenged Xie to ensure that the Chinese government would act in a way that would “promote peace and stability.” .

Instead, Burns said, Beijing crafted its response, including sending missiles over Taiwan, to “intimidate and coerce Taiwanese authorities” and “led a global campaign” blaming the US for what it sees as undermining stability in the Taiwan Strait.

“We have been very, very clear about (maintaining our policy). The question is, is one government going to react aggressively and violently to disrupt the peace? This should concern everyone in the world,” he said. .

Nancy Pelosi received Taiwan's highest civilian award from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the Office of the President on August 3, 2022.

Diplomatic consequences

The US has a “one China” policy, but has never agreed with the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. Washington remains “strategically uncertain” about whether it will stand up for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The Communist Party has long promised to “reunite” the island it never controlled with mainland China, by force if necessary.

China denounced Pelosi’s visit as a violation of its “sovereignty and territorial integrity” and Burns’ colleague Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang said earlier this month that the US should be “responsible” for the situation it created.

Beijing’s diplomatic response included canceling future phone calls and meetings between Chinese and US defense leaders, and suspending bilateral climate talks between the world’s two biggest carbon emitters.

The move, and Pelosi’s visit, comes after a phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden in late July, in which both sides said their teams would stay in touch on cooperation issues, including – according to the White House – about possible personal meeting. The two did not meet in person during Biden’s tenure as Xi conducted much of his Covid-era diplomacy via video link.

Burns said Beijing’s diplomatic action following Pelosi’s visit could have global repercussions, adding that China’s suspension of climate talks would affect the Global South and countries most susceptible to climate change.

“We urge (China) to return to the US climate negotiating table,” Burns said.

“We must regularly discuss at the highest level the issues that divide us, because it is in the interests of both countries and certainly in the interests of the whole world,” he said, adding that despite official contacts through their respective embassies, there were no “replacement” conversations at the cabinet level.

Asked if any lessons Beijing may have learned from watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine apply to Taiwan, Burns said the US is “watching very closely how China builds its relationship with Russia.”

China refused to condemn the invasion or label it as such.

“It was very clear to us that there would be consequences if the Chinese government systematically supported Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine,” he said, adding that they had not seen such support.

Networking

In the past, Burns has issued sensitive bulletins. He was the lead negotiator on difficult issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, military assistance to Israel, and the US-India civil nuclear power agreement. And this time, he said, the US mission in China is doing its best to connect with its counterparts.

Reaching out to the Chinese public was another “major task,” said the ambassador, who has traveled to China many times since his first trip in 1988, including in connection with the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.

'New Normal' Across the Taiwan Strait as China's Threat Gets Closer

But Burns said his job of reaching out to the Chinese, both in person and through the embassy’s social media channels, has also been hampered by China’s zero-Covid control measures, which could hamper domestic travel and face-to-face meetings, as well as his regular censorship of embassy posts on Chinese social media.

“We feel very strongly that we need to go out and visit people and have diplomacy with the Chinese people as well as with the Chinese government. So we certainly want the day when Covid zero ends, but this is really the solution. not for us, it is for the Chinese government,” said the ambassador, who spent more than 30 days in a Chinese government quarantine during his stay there.

According to Burns, “harmful censorship” by Chinese authorities has resulted in the embassy’s social media posts, including those about US policy towards China, Hong Kong, NATO and support for LGBTQI Pride, being censored.

At the same time, Burns said he was “troubled” by Chinese government statements blaming the war in Ukraine on the United States and NATO, rather than Russia, which initiated the invasion. .

Despite these concerns and the US promise to “compete responsibly” with China, Burns urged China to meet the US “half-way” to discuss their differences and issues on which they could work together for the common good: “You must come to the negotiating table to cooperate,” he said.

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