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Foreign Policy

Dealing with Our Differences

Oct 22 , 2015
  • Wu Jianmin

    Former President, China Foreign Affairs University

The success of the recent state visit of President Xi Jinping to US was received by the international community with a sigh of relief. Before the visit, pessimism was widespread. Many people feared that tension between these two great countries would grow further.

The China-US relationship attracts international attention, especially as the United States is entering the election season. I witnessed a few presidential election campaigns when I was stationed in US. It’s a big show. The candidates’ positions on China-US relations are unpredictable. They could make the relationship an election issue, if they liked.

When asked about the future of the China-US relationship, I am cautiously optimistic for three reasons:

1. The fundamentals of the relationship remain unchanged. They are included in the historical consensus reached by President Xi and President Obama in June 2013 in Sunnylands, California. Specifically, the fundamentals are as follows: building a new type of major countries’ relationship, adhering to interdependence, and acknowledging the overarching importance of the two countries’ common interests as compared with their differences.

2. The China-US relationship is growing mature. In the 44 years since Dr. Henry Kissinger’s first visit to China in 1971, we have seen eight US presidents, namely, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, Bush Junior and Obama. All of them have continued to maintain good bilateral relations with China, notwithstanding some temporary fluctuations. It indicates a bipartisan consensus in the US with regard to this relationship. On the Chinese side, we have had Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. Five generations of leaders have been committed to carry on the bilateral relations with US. It indicates unanimity at the top level in China to develop a sound relationship with US. The continued commitment from both countries signifies a maturing relationship that is achieved through arduous efforts from both sides.

3. The history of the China-US relationship is making the case for good relationship between the two countries. China-US used to be allies in World War II in the fight against Japanese militarism. Unfortunately, after the founding of the People’s Republic, our bilateral relationship kept moving downward. We fought each other on the battlefield in Korea and were on the opposite side during the Vietnam War. Both paid a heavy price. However, in 1971, China-US relations began to improve and since then have blossomed tremendously for the benefit of the Chinese and American peoples and of the entire international community as well. History shows that confrontation makes us both losers, while mutual cooperation makes us winners.

It is true that there are many differences between China and US. We have differences now. Even in 100 years, we may still have differencesAs the saying goes, “It takes two to tango”, so a sound China-US relationship requires the two sides to deal with the differences properly. It means that we have to do the following:

a. We have to acknowledge that it is quite natural that China and US have differences, because we have different history, culture, political systems, and we are in different stages of development.

b. We have to deal with our differences through dialogue, which is the only viable and right way. When we look at our differences, we may find some that can be resolved today, while others can be resolved tomorrow and still others the day after tomorrow or even later. For the differences that can only be resolved in the future, we should not try to push today. That will only prove to be futile.

c. We should not let the differences stay in the way of cooperation.

If we can prevent differences from interfering in our bilateral cooperation, it will be good news not only for our two countries, but also for the whole world. A sound China-US relationship is in the best interest of world peace and global prosperity.

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