But there was little consensus on a concrete way to avoid that catastrophe. And that has experts worried.
Washington and Beijing have been trapped in a spiral of anger and suspicion for several years, but the situation has deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, amid finger-pointing over the origins of the virus.
There’s certainly no small amount of antagonism between the two sides at present. Experts point to rising brinksmanship over Taiwan and the expanding standoff in the South China Sea as possible military flashpoints with unpredictable consequences for both sides.
Yet Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said neither side had actually put anything in place to stop conflict from happening. No further talks are planned publicly, and expectations of a possible meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the G20 in October weren’t raised.
“So there is room for further deterioration but there are no signs of possible improvement, even in areas where they have common interests,” said Lam.
Experts said the growing militarization of both the South China Sea and air and sea around Taiwan puts the US and China, as well as their allied nations, at risk of an accidental collision in a contested area or exchange of gunfire that spirals out of control.
“They’re headed towards a train wreck here,” he said. In particular, Schell described the Taiwan Strait as the “Chernobyl” of international relations, with the repeated military drills and flyovers by Chinese aircraft a disaster waiting to happen.
“This is where the globe is most stressed, China and the US and Taiwan are right there at the epicenter,” he said.
But there isn’t any public indication at this stage whether Beijing would sign up for such a plan.
Schell said any talks between the two sides were better than none — and this one could be the “beginnings of a guard rail.” But he said the current and former US military officials he spoke to were “extremely worried” about the risk of conflict if better communication wasn’t established.
“There’s no mechanism to deal with these — there’s no red phone, there’s no (leading) groups, there’s no protocol, there’s nothing,” he said.
Japanese gold medalists face Chinese nationalist wrath
Some of the Japanese athletes who defeated Team China at the Tokyo Olympics have been subject to a storm of abuse on their personal social media accounts from Chinese nationalists.
On Wednesday, Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto won gold in the men’s all-around gymnastics final, edging out China’s Xiao Ruoteng by 0.4 points. At just 19 years old, Hashimoto is the world’s youngest gymnast to ever claim that medal.
As Japan celebrated his victory, some in China questioned the fairness of the result and accused the judges of favoritism toward host Japan by inflating Hashimoto’s score on the vault.
The anger, first set off on Chinese social media, soon spilled over to platforms typically censored by China’s Great Firewall and not accessible in China. Chinese trolls circumvented censorship and descended on Hashimoto’s Instagram account, inundating his feed with angry comments and tagging him in insulting posts.
Many called him Japan’s “national humiliation,” others accused him of stealing China’s gold medal. Some even tagged him in photos of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hashimoto later changed his privacy settings on Instagram, banning himself from being tagged, but angry comments have kept pouring under his posts.
Following the controversy, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) issued a statement Thursday explaining Hashimoto’s vault score, including a detailed list of the imperfections.
“The FIG can assess that the 14.7 score obtained by Hashimoto on this apparatus is correct in regards to the Code of Points, and so is the final ranking,” the statement concluded.
The attacks are an extreme expression of the rising tide of ultra-nationalism sweeping through Chinese social media in recent years, which has silenced many liberal and moderate voices. Some Chinese netizens have tried to call for an end to the online abuse, but they were also attacked.
China currently leads the overall medal table with 16 golds, followed by Japan — the hosts have claimed 15 golds so far. The United States is third with 14 golds.
Delta arrives in China
Chinese state media is trying to calm investors after massive stock rout
It’s been a historically terrible week for Chinese stocks. Now China’s trying to placate investors as the country signals a range of sweeping reforms on private enterprise.
“There are some doubts in the market regarding the recent regulatory policies … in fact, these regulatory policies are not aimed at restricting or suppressing” industry, wrote the state-owned China Economic Daily in a Thursday editorial, joining other voices in the country calling for calm after a massive stock market sell-off.
“If you try to understand it from a big picture perspective, you won’t be biased by irrational emotions,” the editorial said, adding that in the past, major regulatory efforts “did not affect the vitality of China’s economic development” nor dramatically change the relationship between foreign capital and Chinese assets.
That editorial — which appeared in a major newspaper published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party — came a day after the Chinese state-run newspaper Securities Times published a commentary acknowledging the “changes in policy for certain industries.” That paper asked investors to “have confidence in the market.”
The unprecedented crackdown has wiped $1.2 trillion off the value of overseas-listed Chinese tech stocks since mid-February — one of the worst sell-offs in history, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a research report on Thursday.
On Monday and Tuesday alone, Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index lost a combined 8%, while the Shanghai Composite Index fell nearly 5%. The drops came after Chinese authorities targeted tech and education companies with a broad set of reforms — including a ban on for-profit after-school tutoring services, and a requirement that online food delivery platforms provide minimum wages to delivery riders.
US-listed Chinese tech stocks have been hammered, too. Tutoring service provider TAL Education has dived more than 70% in the past week, while rivals New Oriental Education and Technology and Gaotu each plunged 65% during that period.
There was one surprising outlier on Thursday in New York: Didi, the ride-hailing company whose botched IPO has made it a poster child of the most recent phase of the crackdown.
Shares in the company soared nearly 50% during pre-market trading Thursday after the Wall Street Journal reported the company was considering going private to appease Chinese authorities and compensate investors for losses since its IPO.
Didi later denied the report, saying it was “not true” and the company was “fully cooperating” with authorities in China on a cybersecurity review.
The stock still closed up more than 11%, though it is trading well below its IPO price of $14 per share.
— By Laura He