China’s top envoy to Washington calls for improved bilateral relations

Xie Feng

28th September 2023 – (Washington) China Ambassador to U.S. Xie Feng, delivered a speech at his embassy on Wednesday, urging for better bilateral relations between China and the United States. Xie emphasised the need for “concrete, small steps” to enhance cooperation, such as faster visa processing. However, he did not indicate whether Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet his American counterpart, President Joe Biden, at the upcoming Asia-Pacific leaders summit.

The audience at the embassy included dignitaries, academics, government officials, and individuals connected to the U.S.-China relationship, including Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink. In his speech, Xie recognised China’s current economic challenges and reassured that China had no intention of displacing other countries.

Xie’s remarks come amid speculation about President Xi’s attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit, scheduled to take place in San Francisco in less than two months. A meeting between Xi and Biden is seen as a crucial step to halt the deterioration of bilateral relations that have occurred on various fronts in recent years.

While Biden has dispatched several high-ranking officials to Beijing, and the two sides have established working groups, Xie’s speech did not clarify whether Xi and Biden would meet to solidify their engagement. One issue causing tension is the U.S.’s apparent refusal to invite Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu to the APEC summit, as Lee was among the officials sanctioned by the US in 2020 for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Regarding Xi’s potential attendance at APEC, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that China was in communication with all parties involved and would make a formal announcement in due course. Xi has recently skipped three significant international summits, raising speculation about his participation in APEC.

While Xie did not confirm Xi’s attendance, he proposed setting a timetable for doubling the number of direct flights between the two countries. Xie also highlighted that Beijing had shortened the processing time for American visa applications to four days and called for reciprocity from the U.S.

Furthermore, Xie urged Washington to renew the U.S.-China Science and Technology Agreement, which expired and faces opposition from some US lawmakers concerned about intellectual property theft and unintended benefits to the Chinese military.

Turning to China’s economy, which has been affected by a sluggish real estate market, Xie acknowledged that every country has its own challenges. He emphasised the positive trajectory of the Chinese economy, citing an 11% year-on-year increase in domestic tech sector investment in the first half of 2023 and the significant number of Chinese citizens who went to the movies during the summer.

Speaking after Xie, U.S.-China Business Council President Craig Allen stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries on various global issues, including arms control, regional stability, food security, public health, and narcotics control. Allen expressed gratitude for the preparations made for the APEC summit and expressed the desire to welcome a robust Chinese delegation led by President Xi Jinping.

The question of whether Xi and Biden will meet at the upcoming summit remains unanswered, and the tensions between the US and China continue to shape the future of their bilateral relationship.