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Farmers, academics, advocates urge Biden, Xi to calm US-China tensions

Farmers, academics, advocates urge Biden, Xi to calm US-China tensions

A broad range of American industry, academic and community groups are urging President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping to offer public reassurances that Washington and Beijing are lowering the temperature of the fraught relationship when the leaders meet Wednesday in California.

In an open letter, professional groups representing farmers, educators, workers, scientists, climate advocates, veterans and more, call for Biden and Xi to commit to “the sustained reduction of dangerous frictions in bilateral relations, and to energetic Sino-American cooperation on issues central to the preservation of the planet, peace, and prosperity.” 

The letter serves as a statement of support for Biden’s pursuit of diplomacy with China in the face of a more hawkish position, largely from Republicans but also Democrats. The signatories are encouraging the president to promote cooperation with Beijing and deprioritize militarization and punitive actions.

Biden and Xi will hold a high-stakes bilateral summit on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The meeting marks one year since Biden and Xi last met face-to-face on the sidelines of the G-20 conference in Bali, Indonesia. 

The White House is billing the San Francisco meeting as a consequential opportunity to inject stability into the relationship. The president will push Xi to reestablish military-to-military communication channels that Beijing severed in opposition to a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022. The resumption of a direct line between America and China’s militaries is meant to serve as a key accomplishment toward lower tensions between the countries. 

The U.S. views China as America’s most potent competitor to a democratically-led global order, with Beijing building up its military, stifling freedoms domestically, and supporting bad actors globally.

And a record level of Americans (58 percent) view China’s development as a world power as a critical threat to the vital interests of the U.S., marking the highest level recorded in a survey by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs since they started tracking opinion in 1990.  

Still, the Biden administration has prioritized diplomacy with Beijing, and that has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans who say a much tougher stance should be taken. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley criticized Biden as having “begged” to meet with Xi. 

But the letter signatories are raising the alarm that fraught U.S.-China relations are having a negative effect on key areas of economic, scientific and cultural cooperation. 

“Our constituents benefit from, and expect their governments to maintain, a stable and productive bilateral relationship. Continued hostile rhetoric from prominent figures in both the United States and China contributes to this alarming deterioration of relations,” the letter reads. 

The letter was organized by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a progressive, Washington-based think tank that pushes for prioritizing diplomacy over the buildup of military infrastructure that they view as provocative. 

“What we wanted to do here is sort of deviate from the rhetoric from Capitol Hill that would suggest there's just a full consensus that China must be vilified, demonized, excluded at every turn,” said Elizabeth Beavers, vice president for public affairs at the Quincy Institute.

“We wanted President Biden and lawmakers alike, really, to know that this is not the case. There is not a consensus and in fact, multiple sectors of American society rely on a stable, healthy US-China relationship.”

There are 34 groups signed onto the letter.

Among them include Farmers For Free Trade, an advocacy organization that calls for free international trade or equitable trade agreements. For farmers in the U.S., China is the largest recipient of American agriculture exports, reaching a value of $36.4 billion in 2022.

Steven Noah, president of Farmers for Free Trade, said that even as his organization advocates for diversifying customers, China is a market that cannot be ignored. 

“We think it’s very important we keep the door open to talk with them. We think negotiations have to be fair but firm. We believe they also have to be deliberate and thoughtful.” 

Another signatory is the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs (APAPA), a national organization with chapters in California and D.C. that advocates for the Asian-Pacific Islander community. The group was founded in 2001 in part by CC Yin, an immigrant from China to the U.S. who worked as an engineer, has franchised McDonald’s, and owns a ranch with his wife that they rent out for events and weddings. 

“APAPA signed onto this letter because it is important to ensure we are part of the conversation because our voices matter," Yin said in a statement to The Hill. 

"U.S.-China relations have faced more challenges in recent years. With the Chinese president's visit to California, it marks a unique opportunity to strengthen, stabilize, and explore opportunities for cooperation in addressing global issues for both powerhouse countries,” Yin continued.

Dr. Yawei Liu, editor-in-chief of the U.S.-China Perception Monitor at The Carter Center, is also a signatory to the letter. The online publication produces content in English and Chinese aimed at promoting understanding between the U.S. and China and aimed at “reducing misperceptions” in both countries, Liu told The Hill in a statement. 

“President Carter and his Chinese counterpart Deng Xiaoping made the momentous decision to normalize diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China almost 45 years ago. They two agreed to shelf differences and found ways to cooperate,” Liu wrote.

“That legacy is endangered now,” he continued, and said both countries appear on a path that could lead to conflict and confrontation. 

“This slide needs to be stopped.”

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