Sep 02, 2021 07:18 PM

Caixin Explains: China’s Bottom Lines and Demands for Working With Washington

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Sherman in Tianjin on the afternoon of July 26. Photo: The Paper
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Sherman in Tianjin on the afternoon of July 26. Photo: The Paper

Since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, China and the U.S. have been making efforts to reengage and recalibrate their diplomatic relationship after four years of turbulence with the former U.S. administration.

At the high-level meeting in Alaska in March, the two sides failed to reach agreement on how to get their bilateral relations back on track. Since then, Beijing and Washington have each insisted on their own approach to reengagement.

In a March speech, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the U.S.’ relationship with China “will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be,” adding that “the common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.”

In an early February speech, China’s highest ranking diplomat Yang Jiechi, a Politburo member, said the new U.S. government should abandon “misguided policies” that view China as a “strategic competitor or adversary” and work with Beijing to bring bilateral relations back onto a “predictable and constructive” track.

Beijing gradually developed detailed principles for dealing with the Biden administration into “three bottom lines” of the relationship and “two lists” of demands ― which were fully articulated in July during Deputy Secretary Of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to China ― that Beijing believed would set the stage for bringing ties back on track.

On Wednesday, during a video conference with visiting U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi again repeated that Washington should “attach importance to and actively respond to the ‘two lists’ and ‘three bottom lines’ and take concrete steps to improve China-U.S. relations.”

“The United States should carry out coordination and cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels, based on the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, instead of one-way traffic,” Wang said.

Three bottom lines

Wang Yi explained the three bottom lines for keeping China-U.S. relations from going off the rails during his meeting with Wendy Sherman in Tianjin on July 26. According to a Chinese foreign ministry statement, the three bottom lines are as follows:

• The United States must not challenge, slander or attempt to subvert the path and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Chosen by history and the Chinese people, China’s path and system are matters of the welfare of 1.4 billion Chinese people and the future of the Chinese nation, as well as core interests that China must firmly uphold.

• The United States must not attempt to obstruct or interrupt China’s development process.

China urges the United States to remove all unilateral sanctions, high tariffs, long-arm jurisdiction and technology blockades it has imposed on China as soon as possible.

• The United States must not infringe upon China’s state sovereignty, or damage China’s territorial integrity.

The issues regarding Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong have never been about “human rights” or “democracy”, but about fighting against “Xinjiang independence,” “Tibetan independence” and “Hong Kong independence.”

As for the Taiwan question, although the two sides of the Taiwan strait have not yet been reunified, the basic fact that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are one, and Taiwan is a part of China, has never changed and will never change. China urges the U.S. side to honor its commitment on the Taiwan question and act prudently.

Two lists

China’s vice foreign minister Xie Feng also put forward two lists during his meeting with Sherman in July, including a list of U.S. wrongdoings and a list of key individual cases over which Beijing expressed serious concerns. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the two lists of demands include:

• China urged the United States to unconditionally revoke visa restrictions on Communist Party of China members and their families, revoke sanctions on Chinese leaders, officials and government agencies, and remove visa restrictions on Chinese students.

• China also urged the United States to stop suppressing Chinese enterprises, stop harassing Chinese students, stop suppressing Confucius Institutes, revoke the registration of Chinese media outlets as “foreign agents” or “foreign missions,” and revoke the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou.

• Key individual cases include Chinese students’ visa applications being rejected, Chinese citizens receiving unfair treatment in the United States, Chinese diplomatic and consular missions being harassed and rammed into by perpetrators in the United States, growing anti-Asian and anti-China sentiment, and Chinese citizens suffering violent attacks while abroad.

China urged the United States to address those cases as soon as possible and earnestly respect and protect the legitimate interests of Chinese citizens and institutions in the United States, Xie said.

Contact reporter Cai Xuejiao ( and editor Heather Mowbray (

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