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Foreign Policy

Gains and Losses in China-US Relations in 2015

Jan 21 , 2016
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

When last year’s China-US relations are reviewed, there are both exciting highlights and regrettable moments. It is often said that between China and the US, cooperation will foster mutual benefit while conflict will bring harm to both sides. Given America’s special status as the sole superpower in the world and China’s momentum of thriving development, more and more global issues need to be addressed through cooperation between these two countries. In this connection and to be more accurate, China-US cooperation will foster benefit for all mankind while their conflict will bring harm to the whole world.

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

The gains and losses in China-US relations last year may be reviewed from different perspectives.

In the bilateral field, there has been increased agreement on the development of a new model of major-power relations, and certain actual steps. From Sept 22 to 28, President Xi Jinping visited the US at President Barack Obama’s invitation, and Xi attended the series of summits at the 70th anniversary of the UN. Fruits of Xi’s visit extended to the fields of politics, trade, finance, global governance, environmental protection, military, science and technology, agriculture, health and people-to-people exchanges, injecting vitality to the growth of bilateral relations.

Trade developed fairly smoothly last year. According to the US Department of Commerce, US-China trade reached $441.6 billion from January to September, an increase of 3.7% year-on-year. China for the first time overtook Canada to be America’s largest trading partner. Statistics also show that currently the US accounts for about 14% of global trade and China accounts for about 7.4%, leading world trade into a dual-core age.

It is worth mentioning that the US government maintained a calm attitude on cross-Taiwan Straits relations. It expressed cautious welcome to the Nov 7 Xi-Ma Meeting in Singapore.

On the question of cyber security, American suspicion of China is gradually giving way to more benign interactions. During Xi’s visit, the two countries agreed to not to conduct or support cyber theft of business secrets and to develop high-level dialogue on fighting cybercrimes. The two sides then agreed on a guiding principle for fighting Internet crimes and related issues. They also agreed to set up a hotline for fighting cybercrimes and related matters. These were all good omens.

What was regrettable in bilateral relations was the American behavior on issues related to the South China Sea. The US said that it would not take sides. But in reality it has publicly intervened in various ways, increasing risks of friction and conflicts between the two militaries in the South China Sea, which has been most worrisome.

Multilaterally, China and the US have joined hands with other countries and conducted fruitful cooperation in the area of climate change. The 7th S&ED held in Washington DC in June and Xi’s visit to the US in September both made preparations to this end. China announced for the first time the objective of launching a national carbon market in 2017 and committed 20 billion RMB yuan (about $3.1 billion) for developing countries to deal with climate change, an amount similar to the $3 billion committed by the US to the Green Climate Fund. Xi had his second meeting of 2015 with Obama during the Paris UN Climate Conference. Collaboration between the two heads of state contributed to the conclusion of a historic agreement in Paris.

Another highlight in the multilateral arena was the concerted effort leading to the breakthrough on the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran, the EU and the six countries of US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany concluded nine years of tough negotiation in July 2015 with an agreement in Geneva. The constructive coordination and cooperation between China and the US has been indispensable in the process. The agreement entered into force on Oct 18, and immediately after that China and the US agreed on a Joint Statement of Intent Concerning the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Research Reactor Modernization Project under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

There were also negative moments in multilateral fields. For example, China last year went all out to advance the Belt and Road Initiatives, AIIB and connectivity with other countries in the Asia Pacific, with rather significant progress. This has caused much suspicion on the part of America; it seems as if China has been challenging the US-dominated world order. In response, the US government spared no effort in pushing for an agreement on TPP, concluded at Atlanta in October and excluding China, thus intensifying a posture of competition among several sets of multilateral trade and service negotiations.

These are all instances for us to carefully think about the China-US relationship in 2016. In this new year, all past gains should be treasured and carried forward and there are reasons for the past losses to be recouped. The key lies with both sides treating each other with sincerity and working with each other.

First, the two sides should work harder in developing the new model of major-power relations and stop wasting time on suspicions. The mainstream opinions in the Chinese academia and media are quite consistent with those of the authorities, focusing on friendly co-existence. It is hoped that the American academia and media will meet us halfway.

Second, both sides should make efforts to contain sources that stimulate dispute or conflict between China and the US. The Chinese leaders are committed to the mission of creating a comprehensively well-off society and eliminating poverty in five years. Their words and deeds fully testify to the fact that China has neither the intention nor energy to vie with the US. For China, ‘peace, development, cooperation and win-win’ is not nonsense. Rather it is an action guide that has been consistently followed.

Third, the two sides should avoid letting third parties drive a wedge between them or harm China-US relations for their own benefits.

Many people in the world believe that in the future there will be more intensified and regular gaming between China and the US — and that meanwhile cooperation between these two countries will also strengthen. I am a firm believer in the latter.

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