Yang Jiechi, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Foreign Affairs Office, travelled to the US on Tuesday 13 where he met with State Secretary Mike Pompeo.
While the topics of their talks remain confidential, in reporting the news given by the Chinese press agency Xinhua, the South China Morning Post highlights that the meeting occurred just as the conflict between the two seemed to be getting out of hand.
Occupation of Hong Kong’s international airport by anti-Beijing protestors has more than ever triggered heated crossfire: while China has asked the United States to stop backing protests, not only verbally, on the other hand America has increased its support making it even more explicit while requesting moderation against protests from Beijing.
The protestors’ action was of great impact, leading to the closure of the airport for two days causing great difficulties and losses for the city’s economy (and not only).
It also infuriated the government in Beijing who used the words “terrorist acts” against insurgents, although preceded by “near” which avoids them being subjected to the harsh measures which would otherwise be applied.
While in the West word has it that intervention by the Chinese army is inevitable, Beijing knows better: it does not wish for another Tienanmen, and neither can it afford one.
Talks did not center solely on Hong Kong. The meeting between the two eminent diplomats took place on the backdrop of the trade war between the two global powers, with Trump fighting hard through the application of tariffs inflicting great losses on the rival economy.
When asked by the Hong Kong newspaper on the reasons behind the meeting, Shen Dingli, a professor of US studies at Fudan University, declared that the “meeting is an indication that both sides were seeking to prevent their confrontations spiralling out of control.”
The same article reports the opinion of Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan Univerity’s Center for American Studies: “This meeting will not be very useful but shows that both sides can still manage to talk.”
Of greater interest was Xinbo’s second statement: “Even though Donald Trump has said China can handle the situation in Hong Kong and he is not interested in the city, other politicians are seeking to intervene in it. Trump cannot control them and will not stop them.”
Amongst those unduly interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, the government in Beijing seems to have singled-out US National Security Advisor John Bolton, alleging that his “black hand” is behind the protests.
Such accusations have been rejected by Bolton who on Monday discussed Hong Kong with Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of Great Britain, a Country which still exerts considerable influence on the city and where many still advance claims on it.
But back to yesterday’s talks between Pompeo and Yang Jiechi. Given that Jiechi is a prominent member of the Communist party but not a member of the government, the meeting was somewhat less formal yet no less significant.
While the encounter might not appear to have given obvious results, something must have been set in motion if the phone call between Vice Premier Liu He, who is presiding trade talks with the US for China, and American Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, had a positive outcome, with the introduction of new tariffs against China planned for September being delayed.
Of course, their introduction would also have meant a blood bath for US companies who need time to plan out new development strategies. That said China welcomed America’s announcement as a “positive signal.”
Also, one should not underrate the fact that on August 6, Yi Gang, Governor of China’s central bank, while confirming the yuan’s stability despite trade conflicts – a necessary statement given the situation – made it a point to stress that “ China will not engage in competitive devaluation and not use the exchange rate as a tool to deal with external disturbances such as trade disputes.”
An indirect reassurance in response to worries expressed by America, who only a few days ago accused Beijing of being a “currency manipulator” hit back at the US economy.
The war against China is destined to endure throughout the years, however as the meeting between Pompeo and Yang Jiechi – and other cross signals – highlights, there are those who are quietly lobbying to put out the fire.
PS Via a Twitter post Trump has requested a meeting with Xi Jinping in order to resolve the Hong Kong crisis