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Foreign Policy

Wisdom and Courage: A New Great Power Relationship

Mar 15 , 2013
  • Lv Fengding

    Member of Foreign Policy Advisory Group, China's Foreign Affairs Ministry

Last month I traveled to the United States with Ambassadors Zhou Gang and Mei Ping. As retired career diplomats and members of the foreign policy advisory group of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, we visited New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, meeting many friends from the American media, education, academic and business sector.

This visit coincided with a time when the American media was busy talking about alleged Chinese cyber-attacks against US websites. Additionally, some in the US were criticizing China for its policies or actions following the North Korea nuclear test, as well as on the tensions in the East and South China Seas. These questions relating to the bilateral relationship made our meetings and discussions candid, lively, and sometimes challenging, but above all they were relevant and constructive.

From our discussions in the United States, I left with two resounding impressions: one is that mutual trust needs to be further developed between China and the United States. The other is that discussions surrounding a new-type of major power relationship aroused a great deal of interest among the American public, reiterating the need for grander efforts towards that goal.

With these impressions in mind, I do believe that it is the time for our two countries to engage in real efforts towards reducing mistrust, strengthening mutual confidence and working to build a new type of major power relationship. To build a new type of major power relationship is not only imperative to the integrity of bilateral relations, but it is also in conformity with the general trend of the present international situation. In this modern technological era, the world has become more interdependent and a single country or a small group of countries in the world cannot survive or prosper unilaterally.

As the world’s largest developing country, China has concentrated a vast amount of effort into its economic development over the last 30 years, without threatening the security or interests of its neighbors or the global community. On the contrary, China has frequently declared an adherence to peaceful international development. In trying to maintain and develop good relations and cooperation, China has shown the greatest sincerity and utmost goodwill. In the last 40 years, both China and the US have benefitted from our improved relationship and our increasing cooperation. However, the animosity of some individuals in the US threatens the trust-building initiatives between our two governments. Why do these individuals refuse to accept that a healthy relationship with China is wise? One reason could be that they refuse to accept that the world is not zero-sum. They refuse to accept that China and the United States can maintain a fruitful relationship.

To manage this relationship well, we must always remain confident about its future. It was intriguing that during our trip to the United States; we met friends who were quite pessimistic about the future of the bilateral relationship. Their reasoning was often the same. They cited disagreements in the economic relationship, different views on the North Korean nuclear issue, China-Japan standoff on Diaoyu islands, and cyber security. Therefore, they often told us that they were not optimistic about a positive relationship in the years to come. I told them that I respected their reasoning, but don’t agree with their conclusion. As a senior diplomat, I feel optimistic about the future of China-U.S. relations despite the various difficulties and challenges ahead. My reasons are also clear:

Firstly, the world today is in the era of globalization, with the trend of mutual interdependence prevailing in all aspects of the international life. No country can stay outside of the strong influence of the trend, neither the U.S. nor China. Cold war was something far in the past. “Cold peace” as well as all kinds of armed conflicts has become more and more widely disgusted. With the military technology so developed nowadays, the world can’t afford a military showdown among big powers. Therefore, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation are the only reasonable choice for all countries, especially the major powers, in their dealings with one another.

Secondly, Sino American relations have developed into such a stage that the interests of the two are highly intertwined, over the last 40 years. With mutual understanding constantly increasing, the bilateral cooperation in all fields has been deepened and broadened tremendously. The two-way trade between the two countries reached $485.6 billion last year. Each has become the top trade partner of the other. China has become America’s No.1 creditor and the American investment in China has yielded extensive profit. So to maintain and develop a friendly relations and cooperation has become the only way out for the two countries in the present international environment.

Thirdly, the importance of the sustainable development of the bilateral relations has been understood and acknowledged by the two sides. The decision of the leaders of the two countries to explore building a new type of major power relationship has been understood as an important and correct step for the constant improvement of the existing good relations. Facts have shown that good leadership and wise decision get popular support easily and they always prove to be key factors for the steady development of the relations between China and the US.

The general principle of seeking common ground, while reserving the right to disagree, should be applied by both sides on political issues. No country has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. Both countries should consider operating under the guide of mutual respect. America should cease utilizing core Chinese interests like Taiwan, Tibet, and human rights to destabilize the bilateral relationship with China. America should also bear in mind that China’s political system is the choice of the Chinese people, therefore any attempt to change it will prove to be futile.

Mutual respect, mutual trust and win-win cooperation are the basic features for the new type of major country relationship we are now advocating between China and the United States. This is not an easy task to dispel the misunderstandings and suspicions between the two sides. But since China has done its utmost to show its sincerity, America should take practical steps as well. At the very least, the US should stop fabricating excuses, such as alleged cyber attacks to vilify China, mislead the American public opinion and sabotage a prosperous Sino-American relations. The United States should also try to clarify its intentions for implementing its rebalancing strategy in Asia-Pacific, as well as refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs on matters of the Chinese core interests.  In this respect, American leaders, government officials, think-tanks, news media and people of all walks of life should share their wisdom, display a high sense of responsibility, and make real efforts in helping the two countries manage and develop a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.

Now that President Xi and President Obama have both taken office, the two leaders can focus on the challenges and opportunities for the relationship between China and the United States. We must seize the opportunity to ensure that relations start on solid footing. Xi, Obama and other top leaders of the two countries should meet as frequently as possible. It is necessary to keep many channels of dialogue open and ensure they are functioning well. We should continue to redouble our efforts to promote the cooperation and mutual benefit in economic, cultural, scientific and technological as well other fields. And what is more, we must continue to promote sub-national and people-to-people exchanges, and do a better job in carrying out public diplomacy, so as to increase understanding and friendship between our two peoples.

It is my firm belief that through joint and sincere efforts by both sides, Sino-American relations will continue to overcome difficulties and move forward at an unprecedented pace, bringing benefit to the two countries and making contributions to the peace and development of the world.

Ambassador Lv Fengding is a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.

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