US urges China to resume talks ended after Pelosi went to Taiwan

Nicholas Burns

Nicholas Burns

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(Sept 29): The US’s top envoy to China called on the nation to reopen dialogues it halted after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan almost two months ago, as Washington tries to get ties back on track.

“Our message to the Chinese is let’s talk, open these dialogues and let’s move forward,” Ambassador Nicholas Burns said via video on Thursday to the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore.

The US needed to work with China on issues like climate change and health, Burns said, even as they competed on technology. He did warn that Washington viewed Beijing as trying to change the status quo on Taiwan, adding: “We’ve warned them that we won’t agree to that we don’t accept it”.

The comments mark an effort by Washington to soothe tensions with Beijing that spiked when Pelosi became the first sitting speaker in a quarter century to visit Taiwan, a democracy that China views as its territory to be retaken by force if necessary.

China warned Pelosi not to visit, and when she did, it responded with unprecedented military drills and by firing ballistic missiles over the island. It also cut off talks with the US on defence and climate change — one area where the nations had found common ground in recent years.

At the time, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called China’s cutting of military talks with the US “an irresponsible act” but added that “not all channels of communication between our military leaders are shut down”. Kirby also said China’s ending of climate change talks amounted to “punishing the whole world”.

Last week, US climate envoy John Kerry said there was still room for progress on climate talks with China, even though they’d been suspended. “I really hope China will decide sometime in the next days [that] it is worth coming back to this because we owe it to humankind,” he said.

Burns also said that the US is monitoring China’s ties with Russia very closely, though it hasn’t seen any sign Beijing has supported Moscow militarily or with help evading sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine. China has refrained from endorsing the invasion, though earlier this month, President Xi Jinping called Russian President Vladimir Putin “an old friend” and said his nation is ready to work with Moscow.

“We’ve been very clear with the Chinese privately and publicly in saying that we’re watching that very carefully here that China should not provide military support or support to help Russia evade sanctions,” Burns said.

He also highlighted China’s diverging stance on the Ukraine conflict, underscoring its neutrality at a recent United Nations’ meeting but telling its own people that the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) instigated the fighting.

Other points Burns made to the gathering included: 

  • “We reject what the People’s Republic of China has done in Hong Kong. It’s a shadow of what it was. There aren’t political freedoms now of a type that people just enjoyed a couple of years ago.”
  • He highlighted human rights concerns in Tibet and Xinjiang, particularly the lack of religious freedoms.
  • The United States does not want to decouple from China, he said, pointing to the US$1.2 trillion Americans hold in Chinese equities and debt securities. “We’re encouraging Americans to invest here, as long as it doesn’t cross our national security lines,” he said.