By Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Frances F. Towsend and Michael J. Morell
In the realm of international diplomacy, where brief moments can lead to lasting consequences, U.S. leaders must remain steadfast in their commitment to winning the race for global tech domination.
This past week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen unveiled her plan to improve economic ties with China in 2024. This comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated meeting last month with China’s leader Xi Jinping. That encounter, set against the backdrop of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ forum in San Francisco, was the culmination of a series of high-level interactions between U.S. and Chinese officials. These engagements have sparked speculation about a possible warming of U.S.-China relations. But nothing about these developments alters the reality that the United States and China remain in a fierce multifront competition.
Over the past five months, we have seen U.S. officials lay the foundation for President Biden and Xi to shake hands at the APEC summit, culminating in the People’s Republic of China agreeing both to reestablish communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, which had been shut off since 2020, and to work to curb the export from China of the precursor chemicals for fentanyl. Resuming a dialogue with China so that both sides can better understand each other is important. The reestablishment of military-to-military communication, in particular, should also be applauded as a key step in mitigating the risk of miscalculation and in managing a crisis, should one occur. On fentanyl, there is reason to be skeptical until concrete steps materialize.
In the wake of the president’s high-level meeting and the diplomacy efforts of other U.S. leaders that have followed, leaders at all levels in the U.S. must remain clear-eyed that the underlying dynamics responsible for the tensions in the relationship between the United States and China have not changed and — based on the objectives of Xi — are unlikely to fundamentally change in the future. We are in a contest with a peer competitor who doesn’t share our values and indeed wants to undermine those values.
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