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Building a New Model for the China-US Relationship

Tao Wenzhao
May 7, 2012
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The fourth round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) has successfully concluded with 67 key points. These agreements cover a wide range of issues, bilateral, regional and global, which eloquently shows that China and the United States share overlapping interests and responsibilities in meeting regional and global challenges. Some of the agreements have enriched and expanded the existing mechanisms, while some new mechanisms are being established. For instance, leaders from both sides agreed hold regular talks on Middle East, African, Latin American, South Asian and Central Asian affairs, etc. As Premier Wen Jiabao commented, these dialogues have made numerous important breakthroughs within and surrounding the bilateral relationship.

More important than the results of these discussions,  is the fact that an important consensus is now in forming that China and the United States must build a new type of great power relationship which would allow the two countries harmoniously co-exist, peacefully compete and co-prosper together.

Actually, after President Nixon’s ground-breaking journey to China in 1972, especially after the normalization of Sino-American relations in 1979, the two countries began exploring this kind of relationship. In spite of disturbances and troubles, the bilateral relationship has moved forward. China has achieved development within the existing international system. China has benefited from relatively stable relations with the United States. On the other side, the U.S. has benefited from China’s economic growth and integration into the world order. The two countries have now become interdependent on each other, and this point, neither can lose the other.

Why is the importance of a new great power relationship being raised now? Why has the issue of the so called “trust deficit” between the two countries become such a hot topic? In my opinion, these questions are of the utmost importance for the bilateral relationship.

Following the economic decline in the United States, questions have arisen as to whether the U.S. is now in a state of decline.  After China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, the country’s economy has grown at a rate close to 10 percent. This remarkable growth, and China’s new found economic prowess, thrust China into the global arena, despite the fact it was considered a relatively new economic power. Despite this rapid growth, domestically China is still struggling to catch-up. The global economic crisis hastened the rest of the world’s impatience as it waits for China to become a developed country. This impatience has caused suspicion from the US as to whether China seeks to challenge the US position in the world, especially in this region? It seems to some Americans that China’s development is a threat to the global order. Suspicion can also be found in China,  as some people are question whether the US hopes to slowdown China’s economic growth.

Despite the heightened rhetoric and occasional misunderstanding, hope exists for bilateral prosperity. In the era of globalization international politics are constantly evolving, resulting in a greater difficulty for bilateral cooperation. After his visit to China last fall, Vice President Joe Biden published an article in the New York Times titled “China’s Rise Isn’t Our Demise”. President Obama and other key administration officials have publicly shared similar views. Ideally, this method of thinking will become more prevalent in the United States and the populations in both countries will support the efforts of cooperation.

The leaders of both countries have learned much from the recent decades of interaction between Beijing and Washington. I am confident the two countries’ leaders, politicians and people have enough foresight to understand that a course away from the traditional and outdated logic of big power rivalry is needed. The China-U.S. bilateral relationship will surely bring real benefits to not only the two countries, but also global stability and common prosperity.

Tao Wenzhao is a senior researcher with the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University.

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