The World Today for May 23, 2023

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CHINA

American and Chinese officials held more than eight hours of “candid” and “constructive” talks in Vienna two weeks ago. Among the breakthroughs, the Associated Press reported, was when White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Wang Yi that the US wanted to “move beyond” the controversies stemming from the incident of the Chinese spy balloon over US territory in February.

Writing in the Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper based in Seoul, Wang Son-taek, director of the Global Policy Center at the Hanpyeong Peace Institute, argued the meeting was an important diplomatic event. The world’s two largest economies are less likely to go to war over Taiwan or other issues as long as they are engaged in a dialogue, Wang said.

Equally interesting, however, as Wang noted, was China’s other diplomatic efforts that were occurring around the world at around the same time as the Vienna talks.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently visited France, Germany, and Norway to discuss political and economic cooperation, for example. Chinese Vice President Han Zheng also recently went to the United Kingdom to attend the coronation of King Charles III, as well as Portugal and the Netherlands to discuss reorganizing supply chains between East and West.

The first China-Central Asia summit was also held this month, noted the South China Morning Post, a sign that China might be expanding its influence among the former Soviet republics that Russian leaders would like to dominate – if they weren’t so focused on the war in Ukraine. Still, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the China Daily, disputed assertions that China was seeking to create a sphere of influence in the region.

Perhaps China’s biggest diplomatic prize would be brokering a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. As Bloomberg columnist Minxin Pei argued, the meeting between Sullivan and Wang in Vienna frightened Russian officials because the two sides undoubtedly discussed how to bring the war to an end. China arguably has the most leverage over Russian President Vladimir Putin to exploit in bringing about an end to the fighting.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched China’s former ambassador to Russia, Li Hui, to Europe to discuss peace options, the Japan Times reported. Li oversaw close relations between his country and Putin. He might be the man to compel Russia to compromise.

To be sure, other nations are repositioning as China strikes out to shape the world. Australia and other countries in the Pacific, for instance, have sought closer relationships with the US to counterbalance Chinese power, explained the Interpreter, a blog published by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

That said, the world is at the beginning of a new era that doesn’t need to be fraught with peril.

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