‘Hopeful’ but ‘not optimistic’ about future of China relations, US diplomat says

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Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to China, said Friday that relations between the two countries are not necessarily improving, but that he remains “hopeful.”

“I don’t feel optimistic about the future of U.S.-China relations, because I feel that we need to see how things develop,” Burns said at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution. “We had a good and productive meeting in California. Can we now sustain that engagement? Can we meet our commitments to each other?”

“I’ve lived the past. The roller-coaster past where communications is cut off and then put back on again,” he added. “So, wouldn’t say I’m optimistic. I’m careful about this. Maybe realistic. Hopeful, if you will. But hopeful is different than optimistic.”

His comments come a month after President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at a friendly summit in San Francisco. The forum was largely viewed as a positive encounter despite the president calling Xi a “dictator” immediately after it.

Part of the agreement between the two leaders was establishing military contacts that were severed last year. It was a high-priority task for Biden, something he views as essential to avoid potentially disastrous, accidental conflicts, The Hill previously reported.

Xi said he would keep lines of communication open between the two leaders, according to Biden. They also agreed to restart cooperation on counternarcotics, as the U.S. pushes China to crack down on the export chemicals used in fentanyl.

“So far, the Chinese have met their commitments on fentanyl, and I think will in terms of our military-to-military context, but let’s see that happen over time,” Burns said Friday.

The diplomat also said he hopes the two countries can create a relationship where they can compete. But, he said, it must be done in a responsible way that brings down the possibility of conflict.

“The people of China are not our enemy,” Burns said. “We do want to live in peace with China. No person in their right mind should want this relationship to end up in conflict or war.”

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