By Alexander Görlach

Under the current circumstances, Janet Yellen’s visit to China can be considered a complete success. Together with her Chinese hosts, she managed to revive communication channels between Washington and Beijing.

China had abruptly halted joint ventures such as the dialogue on climate change after U.S. politician Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August. Beijing has since held military exercises around the island on several occasions while suspending military communications between the United States and China. This has increased the risk of armed conflict between the two nuclear powers.

In different times, the simple fact that the two sides met for talks, would not have been been particularly significant. Currently though, things are different.

Improving relations between the U.S. and China is tantamount to squaring the circle. On one hand, the differences of opinion between the two governments are immense. But on the other, there are still official voices from both sides stressing the need for cooperation, at least in certain areas. In the latest talks in Beijing, they have begun to cultivate these areas again — climate change and debt relief for poorer countries.

Yellen paves the way

In both cases, China’s perspective is different from that of the U.S.: Beijing does not want to pay into a fund whose proceeds are supposed to benefit countries most affected by climate change. China’s leader Xi Jinping never tires of emphasizing that his country is economically strong and militarily powerful. But China is downplaying all that at this point, claiming that it is still a developing country and that it really cannot pay into the aforementioned fund like a rich country.

China would also like to go its own way when it comes to debt relief. This is because cooperation with the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund would mean Beijing would have to provide some insight into its own practices. The nomenklatura continues to fight this tooth and nail.

Yellen’s visit is the second high level visit from the U.S. since Joe Biden took over as president in 2021. A few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing. Compared with Yellen, he is the “bad cop,” while she’s the “good cop.”  This means that he has to address much more difficult, security-related issues in the Chinese capital, whereas she can show herself as the voice of reason, advocating cooperation and trade.

This dual leadership is intentional, as it also reflects the ambiguity with which Beijing sends different messages out into the world. For example, it is no contradiction for China to join a free trade agreement with Australia while at the same time sanctioning the country because Canberra dared to criticize Beijing.

A third VIP visitor from the U.S. is expected in a few weeks: John Kerry, the U.S.’ top diplomat under former president Barack Obama and now special White House envoy on climate change issues. For this too, Yellen, who is more popular in China than many other U.S. politicians, can serve as a facilitator for a renewed approach between Beijing and Washington.

Behind closed doors, both countries are likely to agree that they need to work together, especially when it comes to climate protection. Not only are China and the U.S. the biggest polluters, they have also been getting a regular taste of what climate change means for their nations: Drought and heat waves, flooding and water shortages, tornadoes, and forest fires.

Outwardly both countries are committed to defining the other as strategic rivals, which indeed they are. The list of contentious issues between them is long. So for both, a diplomacy consisting of progress via small steps seems to be the only viable way forward, a way to balance heat in domestic politics with foreign and security policy.

This article has been translated from German.

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

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TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)

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