Warm words welcome of course, but actions of Washington key to ‘thaw’ in Sino-US relations

Speaking to the media at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, United States President Joe Biden made the surprise prediction of a "thaw" in China-US relations.

"I don't think there's anything inevitable about the notion that there's going to be this conflict" between the West and Beijing, Biden said, although coping with the alleged China challenge was an obvious focus of the just-concluded meeting.

Also, mitigating the popular perception of the gathering's confrontational nature, the US president assured Beijing, "We all agree we're going to maintain the one-China policy".

He then elaborated on Washington's version of "one China".

There are subtle yet significant differences between Washington's "one China" and Beijing's. That is why Beijing speaks of the "one-China principle" while Washington refers to a "one-China policy".

But they appear to see eye-to-eye on one crucial aspect: that maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is in the interests of all stakeholders. Even as the US presses ahead with its latest plans to arm Taiwan, Biden's message of not pursuing change to the "status quo" might be conducive to preventing an uncontrollable escalation of tensions.

Beijing welcomes any show of willingness by Washington for crisis control, and has on many occasions expressed readiness to reciprocate accordingly. In response to Washington's calls for stabilizing economic and trade ties, for instance, Beijing has also sought to address the former's corresponding concerns.

The same day the G7 concluded its Hiroshima summit, with a communique hyping up so-called Chinese "economic coercion", Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao met with US business representatives in Shanghai, promising a constantly improving environment for US companies.

It is good for both sides when Beijing and Washington both work to mend fences. The current state of bilateral relations is concerning not only because it makes critically important communication difficult, if not completely impossible, but because it creates the impression that the world's two largest economies are inexorably heading toward a mutually debilitating confrontation.

But as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson indicated, communication for communication's sake will be of little help, because Beijing is frustrated that Washington is on the one hand calling for communication, while on the other hand trying to suppress China by foul means.

Beijing wants Washington to show "sincerity", which may be too big of an ask — any meaningful move toward substantial improvement in bilateral ties may become a conspicuous weakness in partisan politics at home.

Beijing is correct in pointing out the problems impeding bilateral ties have their roots in Washington's perception of China. But changes at that level don't take place easily.

It is therefore to be hoped that Biden is basing his prediction on more than just a wing and a prayer. That there has been some substantial agreement reached behind the curtain or else a tangible olive branch is to be extended to Beijing.