China's Top Military Diplomat Plays Down Biden Hopes, Says Rivalry Is 'Long-term'

Xi Jinping's chief military diplomat has played down hopes that President-elect Joe Biden could normalize relations with Beijing, describing the current U.S.-China rivalry as "long-term."

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, who manages foreign affairs for the People's Liberation Army, said the United States was to blame for the escalating military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

The 63-year-old director of the Office for International Military Cooperation—established during Xi's military reforms in 2016 and put under the Central Military Commission which he chairs—made the remarks at the seventh annual Cross-Strait Think Tank Academic Forum in Beijing on Sunday.

According to Hong Kong's China Review News Agency, Guan suggested relations between Beijing and Washington could remain frosty despite President Donald Trump's failure to secure a second term in the White House.

"The new administration's policies won't be a return to the past," the navy official said of Biden and his new cabinet. "America's strategic rivalry with China will be long-term and complex."

Competition in the region between the two powers meant that the risk of a "Taiwan Strait crisis" was high, he added, speaking in his capacity as vice chair of the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

"The Taiwan question is one of China's core interests," Guan noted, saying the PLA had increased its presence in the Taiwan Strait following U.S. "interference" in Taiwan and the island's own "brazen" independence movement.

"The United States has been the biggest external factor in the breakdown of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," the rear admiral argued, while also acknowledging what he called "secessionist activity" within democratic Taiwan.

Guan said the presence of militaries in the area was likely to cause more friction, further raising the risk of conflict and plunging the region into its next crisis.

He called for a reopening of communication channels between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in order to prevent further escalations.

Among the more than 60 thought leaders invited to contribute to the forum was Wang Kao-cheng, a professor with Taiwan's Tamkang University and head of its Institute of Strategic Studies.

Wang, who participated via video link, said President Trump's Taiwan policy had caused a deterioration of cross-strait relations in the last four years.

Since Trump took office in 2017, his administration has authorized 11 arms deals with Taiwan, totalling $18 billion in foreign military sales, according to figures published by the DoD's Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The unprecedented support has allowed the country's president, Tsai Ing-wen, to shift confidently away from overreliance on Beijing and toward cooperation with other regional democracies in South and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

President Trump's Taiwan policy led to growing public opinion in favor of Taiwan's independence from China, said Wang, from Tamkang University.

He agreed with Rear Admiral Guan in saying U.S.-China relations were unlikely to return to the relative harmony of the Obama administration.

"The United States is now facing a different situation" in the Asia-Pacific, the professor said, adding: "Anti-China sentiment is now a mainstream consensus among America's political elite."

"After Biden assumes office, he will restore alliances with partners and return the United States to international bodies to once again play a leading role. This will affect the U.S.-China dynamic," Wang argued.

He said Biden's emphasis on American ideology would further deepen the "conflict of values" that exists between Washington and Beijing.

Chinese Navy Official Guan Youfei Addresses Media
File photo: People's Liberation Army Navy Rear Admiral Guan Youfei (C). JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images