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Foreign Policy

Building a New China-US Relationship

Jun 27 , 2013
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

Nowadays, Sino-US relations have become the world’s most dynamic, influential bilateral relationship with the most important influence. Meanwhile, how to maintain and develop a good, healthy and sustainable Sino-US relationship has become a great strategic issue with practical and far-reaching historical significance, which is testing the political wisdom and strategic judgment of the two countries’ leaders, as well as the whole world. China has made a positive and useful exploration in this regard. In the 18th Party Congress’ report, it made clear that “we will strive to establish a new type of relations of long-term stability and sound growth with other major countries.” Obviously, to build a new type of major power relations between China and the U.S. is one of the priorities, and should feature equality, mutual trust, inclusiveness, mutual learning, and mutually beneficial cooperation. 

What’s “new” in the new type of major power relations between China and the U.S.? 

Firstly, it stems from the “new” actors. China is not a rising power, while the United States is also not a traditionally hegemonic one. China does not seek to challenge the current international order. On the contrary, China has become a participant and contributor to the construction and improvement of the current international system. The U.S. does not seek to contain China’s development, but is creating a more inclusive, open, representative and authoritative international system with greater legitimacy and impartiality. Just as the two leaders said during the recent Xi-Obama summit, China will follow the path of peaceful development no matter what, and the U.S. should welcome China’s commitment to peaceful development as a major power. 

Secondly, the relationship will rest on the “new” international situation. Currently, with the development of economic globalization, China-US relations have become highly interdependent. The two states are each other’s second largest trading partner. In the year of 2012, Sino-US trade volume hit a new high record, reaching nearly $500 billion. The United States is China’s largest export market, as well as one of the largest sources of foreign investment; the deep, multi-field exchanges have been significantly increasing between China and the U.S.; international security is faced with complex and diverse challenges, which means each of them cannot cope alone or keep away. Thus, the two countries are closely bound, not only because of common interests, but because of shared responsibilities. 

How to Build a New Type of Major Power Relations 

Owing to awareness about common interests and common destiny, these are the basic conditions to build a new type of major power relations between China and U.S. However, it is easier said than done. To establish a new type of Sino-US bilateral relationship will require both sides to make great efforts with unremitting persistence. 

First, the two powers must go beyond the historical fate of major powers and establish a model of harmonious coexistence. Historically, the traditional mode of a rising great power means war. The human society has always been plagued by “Tragedy of Great Power Politics.” But if we indulge in historical experience, human beings will fall into a destructive cycle without advancing. Fortunately, both the leaders of China and the U.S. refuse to repeat history, but want to be the makers of history. Chinese President Xi said he was confident in building a new type of major power relations between China and the U.S. during the meeting with his U.S. counterpart in California. President Obama also said that U.S. and China could avoid repeating the historical tragedy and find a way to cope with the relations between a rising great power and a hegemonic one. Additionally, except for the strategic vision of the leaderships, we must also deeply consider the traditional mode of a “power shift.” In today’s world, wars are not a reasonable tool for getting benefits, which have become a tool for self-destruction. 

Second, the two nations must go beyond the mentality of a zero-sum game and explore mutually beneficial options. Zero-sum game thinking is the only rule of the traditional mode of power transfer. However, in this highly interdependent international environment, only by letting others live better can we ourselves live better. Anyone seeking absolute profits in a zero-sum game mentality may not get the ideal results. Even worse, it is destructive. 

Thirdly, the two nations must go beyond differences in ideology and expand their common knowledge. Ideology is the product of historical development, which also holds the characteristics of nations. The development history of human beings tells us that there is no general ideological paradigm for fixing all states. Conventional thinking marked by ideology is completely outdated. Conversely, expanding common knowledge among great powers will help to eliminate misunderstanding, resolve conflict, and maximize national interests. 

Fourth, China and the U.S. must go beyond differing ideas on their development paths, and plan the future prospect for human progress. The choice in developing the path is mainly based on national conditions and historical elements. The development path for each country has unique characteristics due to the differences in national conditions, history, the development stage, culture, and traditions. Relationships among countries should abandon controversies on the development paths, and cope with the relationship from the perspective of each country’s situation and the common progress of mankind. 

What may the benefits be of a new type of major power relations between China and U.S.

Interests are adhesives for the relationship among countries. The new type of major power relations between China and U.S. must conform to the interests of both peoples. China’s development cannot be separated from a peaceful and stable international environment. The “Chinese Dream” cannot be realized without China’s steady development. Building a new type of Sino-US relationship is not only an important guarantee for China’s sustainable development, but the guarantee for achieving every Chinese individual’s dream. 

Actually, forging an “American Dream” also requires a new type of Sino-U.S. relationship. The United States is the world’s most important country with broad global influence. However, under the complex international environment in recent years, the United States has shown its weakness in global governance, economic development, and the maintenance of international security. In 2012, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out that a prosperous China is good for America, and a thriving U.S. is also beneficial to China. 

The Atlantic Council released a report in 2012 with the title Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World, which said “On a broad array of global issues–the shape of multilateral institutions, the global financial system, the nuclear future, cyber security, outer space, climate change, global resource scarcities, and Asian security–the US-China relationship will be a major driver of solutions or of failure.” 

Obviously, there is a wide range of opinions on how to build a new type of Sino-US relationship in America. Moreover, a new Sino-US relationship is also beneficial to world peace, stability and prosperity. As the world’s largest developing country and the largest developed country, if the United States and China follow the old historical path, the world will experience unbearable disaster. In fact, the “American Dream” of equal opportunity for all and respect for personal struggle; and the “Chinese Dream” of everyone participating and pursuing a better life together may create the solid foundations for a “World Dream,” featuring peaceful coexistence and shared prosperity. 

Of course, with further development of Sino-US relations, the existing old problems and the new contradictions have become increasingly prominent. However, these problems should not be considered as barriers for building a new type of Sino-U.S. relations, but should be taken as the driving power. There is no previous experience to follow in the course of building a new Sino-US relationship. As a result, the future Sino-U.S. relations are worthy of anticipation. 

Chen Jimin is Ph.D and Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C.

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