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Foreign Policy

From Sunnylands to West Lake

Oct 03 , 2016
  • Li Yan

    Assistant Director of Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

In Hangzhou, President Xi Jinping and President Obama had their eighth summit meeting — likely to be the last before President Obama leaves office in January. Considering the current volatile Sino-US relations and the imminent transition of US government, this meeting had unique implications and thus attracted great attention in both China and the US.

With 35 concrete achievements announced, this meeting further advanced practical Sino-US cooperation. In the security field, the military-to-military contacts, cooperation between Coast Guard sectors and agreements in anti-terrorism issue were most notable. Both sides agreed to extend military dialogues to more sectors including joint staff division and more joint navy exercises were planned. Cooperation between Coast Guard sectors also had breakthroughs, with further and deeper discussion about law-enforcement agreements and a code of conduct for unexpected encounters at sea. On the anti-terrorism issue, more intelligence sharing and concrete cooperation in fighting against cyber terrorism, cross-border flow of terrorists and terrorist financing will be advanced. In the economic field, moving forward on a bilateral investment treaty and coordinating macro-economy policies were most important. For the BIT, both sides exchanged negative lists for the third time and affirmed the greater progress of the negotiation. Final agreement during the Obama administration is still possible. Both sides also coordinated positions in critical economic areas like monetary and fiscal policies, economic reform, balanced growth and global development issues.

Such fruitful achievements can play a positive role for current and future interactions between two nations. Besides these achievements, this summit also has deeper implications for Sino-US relations from now until the new administration takes office in the US.

First of all, the breadth and strategic importance of the relationship are strongly confirmed through this summit. It is true that the competition is emerging in many fields in recent years and some special issues like the South China Sea and THAAD issue seem to dominate the relationship in a very negative way. The two presidents emphasized the positive developments of the relationship in past several years rather than focusing on divergences. The two presidents reaffirmed that common interests are still greater than divergences. This point demonstrates that the nature of Sino-US relations is different from the nature of historical relations between emerging powers and hegemonic powers. They reaffirmed that the strategic and global nature of the relationship is still greater than the nature of regional competition.

Second, this summit is also critical for dealing with the coexistence of competition and cooperation in the relationship. It is becoming a new normal for the relationship that competition and cooperation exist side by side. Considering the great necessity of China-US cooperation regionally and globally, it is very important for both nations to deal with this new normal in a rational way. Cooperation should not be hindered by competition. During this summit, the two presidents reaffirmed their determination to manage divergences in a constructive way and create a positive atmosphere for further cooperation by restraining competition. In the long run, this common ground is most important for the relationship.

Third, this summit was indispensable for a stable transition of the relationship. Currently, the US presidential election is well under way and the Obama administration will be replaced by a new administration. History shows such a transition can have an impact on the bilateral relations between China and the US. What’s more, the current volatile relationship is more fragile and more easily influenced by the election atmosphere. Thus, it is valuable for the top leaders to reassure each other to avoid damaging the established ties. President Obama expressed a strong desire to leave a healthy and positive relationship to the next administration.

To sum up, the Hangzhou summit again shows the importance of top-level dialogue. It is undoubtedly helpful to calm the volatile situation between China and the US and create room for both sides to review policies on many issues. Furthermore, this summit constitutes a constructive foundation for future interactions to solve deep-rooted contradictions inherent in this relationship.


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