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Foreign Policy

Common Ground: Resolving Differences Between the US and China

Jul 24 , 2013
  • Chen Yonglong

    Director of Center of American Studies, China Foundation for International Studies

Former US Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissenger often says that there is a cultural difference between Chinese and Americans when it comes to viewing and dealing with a problem; namely, Chinese used to consider of the long-term or strategic perspective and Americans like to relate the facts and pay more attention to immediate or realistic interests. From my understanding Dr. Kissenger meant that Chinese people are more reserved and Americans appears more straightforward. So China and the US should put a premium on compatibility.

In fact, difference and diversity are not equal to contradiction in a diversified world. Some conflicts cannot be resolved does not mean that China and the US cannot become partners. In other words, the approaches or styles may be different while the visions are the same. Focusing on the long-term benefits does not mean ignoring the immediate interests, but looking at long-term benefits without haggles over the success and failure immediately. Both sides take a wider view and make some degree of compromises to each other so as to keep them on the right track; that will be greatest consideration of the  realistic benefits of both sides. Focusing on the realistic benefits does not stand for being lack of foresight but working step by step. For the US, the long-term target is very clear, that is never to be No.2, leading the world and dominating the world order forever. I am afraid that it is hard to find a second country in the world with such ambitions.

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also expressed insightful views in this aspect. Two years ago she said to me at the summit of Bo’ao Forum for Asia that there were many differences between China and the US. Some of them were contradictions, which would affect bilateral relations and needed to be overcome. But some of them brought a chance of learning from each other. For example, China had 5000 years’ splendid culture, which was worth studying for Americans. Although with only 200-year plus history, the US is well known for its advanced technologies and management, which was worth studying for the Chinese.

Understandably, based on the different situation, there are big differences such as targets, appeals, paths and views on the bilateral relationship between the two countries. To live harmoniously in differences or find commons because of differences, the key is how to find the common purpose, seek common grounds while shelving or defusing differences and make a common dream with inter-link. This will be a major test to the leaders of China and the US. For some time, the leaders have reached the long-term shared goal on building a new type relationship between the major countries in principle. Its connotation is being enriched continuously. It maybe that the historic and strategic importance of the recent Sunnylands Summit between President Obama and President Xi Jinping will be evaluated more accurately by the descendants. Regardless, the in-depth communications on governing philosophy as well as differences between the two leaders has been established in an easy and lively form. Isn’t this what Dr. Henry Kissenger, Ms. Condoleezza Rice and people from the two countries have wished for?

After all, building a new type relationship between the major countries is a pioneering endeavor. We have no ready examples to follow, but what we will accomplish can set an example for others. The raise of this proposal fully reflected the broad-minded strategic ambition and pragmatic attitude of the leaders of the two countries, which has put positive energy for the healthy development of bilateral relationship.

There are two cases easily happening in the context of commons and differences: one is principle issues which allows no concessions; the other is some issues look like principle issues which is so sensitive that can be mistaken for principle issues and related to bilateral relationship. In fact, both aspects above are not deadlocks. Just think, who can imagine that the relations between China and the US, which have totally different systems and experienced many bumps during the past 40 years after reopening the door to each other, will have today’s achievement. In this sense, China-US relations have set a good example in coexistence and developing between countries with different social systems. Dr. Kissenger said recently, the US and China come together because of a common enemy, but today we come together for shared vision, for cooperation on common purpose, for building a wonderful world in the future. I believe that the China-US relationship will become a new type of partnership with both cooperation and competition, while cooperation will be the main trend. This is because only the shared visions above are the core benefits for both sides compared with all the differences and contradictions.

Chen Yonglong is Director of the US Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.

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

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