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Foreign Policy

Credibility Essential for China-US Ties

Jun 04 , 2015
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

US Secretary of State John Kerry had five meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leading officials during his latest visit to China. The unusual arrangement was a sign that this trip was unusual. The two sides reached extensive consensuses on deepening and expanding exchanges and cooperation in crucial areas as well as major international and regions issues, laying fine groundwork for “priority no. 1” of the year for China-US relations – Xi’s U.S. visit scheduled for September.

An outstanding highlight of Kerry’s visit was that the two parties greatly deepened strategic mutual trust, especially that the U.S. side clarified its position on the South China Sea issue, which is conducive to reducing potential misunderstanding and misjudgments between the two parties. Kerry emphasized that the U.S. and China are partners pursuing development together, not strategic rivals. Responding to recent media reports quoting U.S. military sources as saying that the U.S. will dispatch ships and planes to patrol within 12 nautical miles of Chinese isles in the South China Sea, and claiming that that may result in China-U.S. military conflicts, Kerry stated those claims are not U.S. government decisions. He also stated that the U.S. does not take sides on the South China Sea issue, and is not biased toward or against any stakeholder.

A man can’t achieve anything without being credible. The same applies to countries. Negotiating with then Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1972 about establishing diplomatic relations between China and Japan, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai presented his counterpart the advice, “Be truthful both in words and in deeds”. That has always been an article of creed and “motto” of Chinese diplomacy. Like with all other countries, China has been faithful to its promises in dealing with the U.S., never having done anything that is against its words and harmful to the latter. The US has by and large abode by some of the basic principles of the three joint communiqués on diplomatic relationship, an important basis upon which bilateral ties have generally been stable.

But the U.S. is evidently lacking in credibility. Its words and deeds turned out to be against each other on a number of issues in bilateral ties. Major examples include: President Obama reiterated on many occasions that a strong, stable, prosperous and peacefully developing China means opportunities, not challenges to the U.S., but the Department of Defense has kept mongering the “China threat” in its annual evaluation report on the Chinese military; the joint communiqués stipulated in explicit terms that the bilateral ties were built on the five principles of peaceful co-existence, but the U.S. has persistently interfered with China’s domestic affairs on issues concerning China’s core interests, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and human rights; the U.S. government has stated on many occasions that it “has no position” and “doesn’t take sides” on territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, but it has repeatedly eaten its words and presented itself as a biased third party, even encouraging some countries to violate Chinese territorial and sovereign integrity. The U.S. government has repeatedly pledged to lift the embargo on exports of civilian high technologies to China and recognize China’s market economy status, but there has been no follow-up in action. By seriously discrediting itself, the U.S. has made many significant consensuses between the two countries become futile, severely impeded normal progress of bilateral ties.

The main reason for the U.S.’ low “credit quotient” is the continuous impacts of Cold War thinking. To the U.S., China’s rise has broken two taboos: On one hand, it believes a stronger China will challenge, even take the place of, the U.S. as the sole superpower, and shaken the basis of its dominance in the Asia-Pacific and global hegemony. On the other hand, it believes China’s rise and the expansion of the international influences of its development mode will challenge, even overthrow the capitalism system, on which the U.S. and the West have thrived.

These are pure misgivings and obsolete political stereotypes and biases. China sticks to peaceful development. It has never pursued and will never pursue hegemony or dominance, globally, or regionally. It respects other countries’ voluntary choices of social systems. It doesn’t seek to export its own system or ideology. It advocates harmonious co-existence of different civilizations, including divergent political systems and ideologies. It opposes any form of rivalry, and doesn’t subscribe to conflict of civilizations. China has persistently honored such proposals and commitments with actions. Its truthfulness is known worldwide. U.S. suspicions and biases against China don’t hold water because they are inherently porous. It is precisely because of its ideological prejudices that the U.S. has taken an opportunistic approach to the principles, agreements and consensuses that would otherwise result in win-win outcomes: It adopts the beneficial parts and ignores those it finds constraining. The U.S. thinks this way it can benefit itself and harm competitors. But this is actually very unwise: It harms both parties, because it turns win-win scenarios into lose-lose ones.

Only when both parties are honest and credible can there be mutual trust. Only when there is mutual trust can there be candid exchanges, sincere collaboration, and win-win prospects. This is an indispensable precondition for China and the U.S. to formulate a new-type major-country relationship. We hope the U.S., like China, can avail itself of the historical opportunities of President Obama’s successful China visit in October 2014 and President Xi’s upcoming U.S. visit, cherish the significant fruit of the leaders’ mutual visits, deepen its sense of credit, match its words with deeds, and create a better future for China-U.S. relations.

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