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Foreign Policy

China-US Cooperation Needs More Two-way Traffic and Focus on Real Big Issues

Feb 21 , 2014
  • Xue Junying

    Research Fellow of Center of American Studies, China Foundation for International Studies

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Beijing last weekend attracted a lot of media attention. Many people are curious about how China and the US discussed issues like the Korean Peninsula, East China Sea, South China Sea and Japan. As important as they are, these issues should not shadow more important details, such as Kerry’s visit to the Beiqi Foton Auto Corporation, a leading state-owned Chinese manufacturer of commercial vehicles. 

In 2008, Foton established the Beiqi Foton Cummins Engine Corporation (BFCEC) with the American engine giant Cummins, to produce clean and efficient automobile engines. Secretary Kerry highly appraised the BFCEC and labeled it as a model of U.S.-China win-win cooperation, representing the two countries’ joint efforts to combat climate change. He sent out a strong message: the issue of climate change is high on the agenda of U.S.-China cooperation.   

The greenhouse gas emitted by the U.S. and China accounts for about 40% of total global emissions. The U.S. just suffered the coldest winter in the past two decades, and a large part of China was haunted by terrible smog. Climate change is indeed a global challenge that goes beyond state borders. If the scientists’ prophecies come true, no matter how prosperous and mighty the U.S. and China are, they cannot escape the climate catastrophe. During Secretary Kerry’s visit, China and the U.S. released a joint statement, agreeing to strengthen efforts in coping with climate change. Both sides decided to implement five major initiatives, including Emission Reductions from Heavy Duty and Other Vehicles, Smart Grids, Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage, Collecting and Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, and Energy Efficiency in Buildings and Industry. The U.S. promised to give positive consideration to export liquefied natural gas to China, which will help China to reduce the use of coal and improve energy consumption structure. Meanwhile, China will take further steps to develop clean energy to replace coal. Both sides also agreed to further discussion and cooperation on the control of air pollution and to promote international negotiations on climate change. 

The companies of both countries are the key players in China-U.S. cooperation on climate change. Although a lot of American companies have boasted strong innovative and technological advantages in recent years, many Chinese companies have been catching up rapidly. This is obviously a natural phenomenon. Some American companies are complaining about the difficulties of making profits in the Chinese market. This is largely due to the rise of Chinese competitors rather than the deterioration of the business environment in China. Both American government and enterprises should put this in the right perspective and get ready for the rise of competition. Foton and Cummins already set a great example for us. Last year, the Tesla, a famous American made hyper-power electric sports car was marketed in China. The K-9 electric bus made by the Chinese company BYD also rolled off in American metropolises like Los Angeles and New York. This bus has the longest drive range on one single charge in its class. The more we see this type of two way traffic, the better China and the U.S. will complement each other and maximize their common interests. 

Of course, cooperation cannot guarantee that relations will be free from disturbances. As two large countries, China and the U.S. will always have some disputes and frictions, which adds to the complexity of their relationship. China-U.S. cooperation will also be mingled with competition. But at the same time, both sides share the same bottom line of no conflict, no confrontation, and peaceful coexistence. As a matter of fact, since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US 35 years ago, the common interests between the two countries have become unprecedentedly broad and deep. To work together and achieve win-win results is the only viable choice for both. At present, it’s particularly important and urgent for both countries to step up cooperation on the major issues concerning the future of the human race, such as climate change, counter-terrorism, non-nuclear proliferation, energy security and pandemic disease, as well as those regional flash points that may undermine the peace and security of the world. 

In order to really focus on these big issues and cooperative efforts, both China and the US have to put aside their geopolitical suspicions, shelf disputes and prejudices, and don’t let the zero-sum mentality take over. 

Xue Junying is a Researcher at the US Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.

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