In an interview with China Newsweek on January 18, Zhang Baijia former Deputy Director of the Party History Research Office of the Central Committee under former General Secretary Hu Jintao, said this is an important year for China as "2020 is the year of a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and the launch of the "14th Five-Year Plan". 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and the 20th Communist Party of China will be held in 2022". The US too will definitely be focussing "on solving the epidemic, bridging severe social tears, restoring economic growth, and ensuring that the Democratic Party gains an advantageous position in the 2022 midterm elections". He said that "competition among major powers is harsh, but it is not necessarily a zero-sum game". He said cooperation is still possible and for that China should make a shortlist of its core interests and tell the US that those are absolutely off-limits. He stressed that "we must resolutely stand up to the extreme pressure of the United States so that it will retreat in the face of difficulties. Especially when it comes to core national interests, such as the Taiwan issue, the United States cannot be allowed to break through the bottom line. At the same time, the scope of core interests should also be limited. If the core interests are generalized, their policies will inevitably lose flexibility and lead to overreaction". Though mechanisms exist, he added that the two countries need to still improve the crisis management mechanism between the respective militaries to reduce the risk of smaller miscalculations triggering large conflict. He said "in the ongoing competition or game between China and the United States, both sides have a certain amount of leeway. This is because the goals of both sides of the competition are not completely at the same level. What the United States must strive to maintain is its global leadership, and what China is determined to maintain is its own development rights. If this difference can be objectively recognized, the two countries can completely escape the Thucydides trap, get what they do, and achieve a win-win situation." He anticipated that the foreign policy orientation of the Biden administration would be very different from that of the Trump administration and it will abandon Trump's "America First" unilateralism in order to restore America's "leadership" in the world. There will be major adjustments in the US government's policies on climate change, nuclear proliferation, epidemic control, trade policies, maintaining financial stability etc. However, seeing China as a "strategic competitor" of the United States has become the strategic consensus of the two parties in the United States, and this will not change when the White House changes hands. Zhang Baijia said it is necessary to stop the “death spiral of deterioration” in any future exchanges with the US and one way could be to proactively engage in areas of possible cooperation, including on climate change, pandemic response, financial stability, and people-to-people exchanges. According to Zhang, the relationship should be less fraught over the next two years as both countries focus more on domestic matters.

(Comment: Zhang Baijia is a member of the Academic Committee of the Strategy and Security Research Center of Tsinghua University and the former deputy director of the Party History Research Office of the CPC Central Committee)

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