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China-US relations: Will it turn for the better? (China Daily)

by September 15, 2015 Government & Politics

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping rest during a tour at the Annenberg Retreat, California, June 8, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

President Xi Jinping will fly to the US to meet with US President Barack Obama and attend the United Nation’s 70th Anniversary of WWII.. during the week-long visit from September 22 to 28. This will be Xi Jinping’s fourth visit to the US, but his first state visit as President. Xi Jinping’s week long visit from September 22 to 28 is expected to focus on talks with Obama ranging from regional issues to global issues of mutual interests.

President Xi’s visit to the US is against a background of growing distrust and competition between the two global economic leaders. The US was alarmed by President Xi’s remarks at the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in Shanghai in May, 2014. President Xi said, “In the final analysis, it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia and uphold the security of Asia. The people of Asia have the capability and wisdom to achieve peace and stability in the region through enhanced cooperation.”

This was viewed by some American analysts as Asian Monroe Doctrine targeted against US alliance system in Asia. The US views with great concern China’s efforts to establish the BRICS Bank, AIIB, and the “One Belt, One Road” economic initiatives, which is understood to try to undermine the US dominant international financial order and to counteract against US Asia-Pacific (TPP) proposal.

The US is also frustrated by China’s increasingly “assertive” foreign policy in South China Sea, where China “bullies” Vietnam and the Philippines in maritime disputes. The US was also outraged when news leaked that a source from China was allegedly behind the recent hacking of the US Office of Management and Personnel databases resulting in millions of federal workers’ data breach. And the US government vowed to take measures against China in retaliation.

For China’s part, it sees a growingly unfriendly America. Since the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, the US has become much more aggressive against China. The US strengthened its relations with Asian allies and upgraded its military ties with Japan, Australia, and the Philippines to enhance its military presence in Asia. It also expanded its security partnerships with India, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, to wave a dense web of security against China.

In China-Japan’s disputes on Diaoyu/Senkaku Island, President Obama and other senior officials unequivocally declared that the disputed island is under the cover of US-Japan security treaty and accused China of trying to change the status quo. In the South China Sea maritime disputes, in addition to diplomatic support, US provided military assistance to Vietnam, the Philippines, among others, to help them build their maritime military to counteract China.

The US also tried internationalizing the maritime disputes by urging ASEAN to form a united front to negotiate with China and inviting Japan, India, Australia, and even the European Union to “help stabilize” the situation in South China Sea.

In the economic arena, Obama administration put forward an ambitious trade vision for the TPP centered on US and based on US preference for “high standard, 21st century” free trade agreement, preventing China’s economic influences and dislodging China’s free trade vision in Asia.

In cyber security, the US tried imposing its version of rules of the road. In a word, both the US and China are a little bit disillusioned with the either side.

So the logical questions to ask is: What can Xi Jinping and Obama do during the summit to offset this downturn trend in China-US relations? And what can be expected of China-US relations in general?

While it’s unrealistic to expect China-US relations to solve all the problems, or even clear the distrust between them, it is quite possible that China and US can forge some kind of “we can do” working relationship. Luckily, despite mounting differences and distrust, there’re also increasing common interests for cooperation, from climate change to combating global epidemics, from piracy on high seas to preventing WMD proliferation, from combating terrorism and religious extremism to preventing global financial crisis, from promoting world economic growth to reducing poverty.

China’s successful story of more than thirty years of fast economic growth benefits greatly from the stable and friendly environment it has enjoyed since its opening up to the outside world in 1978. Without a stable environment, integrating itself into the world economic system, China could not have achieved what it has achieved in the past thirty years. The US has also benefited a lot from the economic miracle in East Asia, and has expanded its export market and sharpened its economic competitiveness.

And despite the downturn of China-US relations and growing mutual suspicion in recent years, both China and the US have intentions on maintaining a stable and bilateral relationship. In addition, China has repeatedly said that it has no intention on challenging or dislodging the US’s influences in Asia or overturn post-WWII order in East Asia. President Xi said time and again that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for China and US, among others, to live peacefully together.

China is not trying to increase China’s influence in East Asia at the expense of US, instead, China hopes to build a new type of China-US relations. China’s economic and security initiatives in Asia, which caused a great discomfort in US, are not at all exclusively targeting US’s influences in Asia. Instead, they are complementary to existing architectures, posing a healthy dose of competition.

Xi and Obama should have frank, open, and deep discussion on outstanding issues between the two countries. They should talk frankly to each other about what their most concerned or worried issues related with the other side.. Emphasizing the common interests of the two countries in dealing with a range of regional and global issues should be a priority. Thanks to the revolution in technology, the world today is rapidly shrinking into a small earth village. Whatever happens in one part of the world, the rest of world can feel the impact instantly. As the two largest developing country and developed country respectively, Xi and Obama should emphasize the common interests and their intentions to cooperate. They can show the world that they’re not doomed to be rivals, or to be guarded against, but likely partners to work with.

Xi and Obama should try their best to achieve some concrete results during their summit. This summit is no doubt the last state-visit summit between Xi and Obama before the US politics enters into its presidential election cycle, and is perhaps the last chance the two leaders sit down to talk and take concrete steps to improve bilateral relations before it turns for the worse.

For the past thirty years, despite the ups and downs, economic relations is a stabilizing force and the ballast of China-US relations. However, in recent years, both in China and in US, there are voices questioning the wisdom of close economic ties between the two countries, and some even argue for economic decoupling. Some US companies complain China’s commercial environment is not as friendly to them as it used to be, and China companies complain that they are not provided a level playing ground in the US, especially in the investment field. The two heads should take these complaints seriously and take the necessary measures to address them as precise as possible.

China-US relations are too important to let fall free. This summit is an opportunity for the two leaders to talk frankly and take concrete measures to better the relations.

Wei Zongyou is Professor at Center for American Studies, Fudan University. His main research interests cover China-US Relations, American Foreign Policy and American Security Policy in the Asia-Pacific.