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Foreign Policy

Cooperation on Non-Proliferation Builds New U.S.-China “Big Countries Relationship”

Apr 17 , 2015
  • Wu Jianmin

    Former President, China Foreign Affairs University

The recent Lausanne agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is an important step forward for the international community after more than 12 years of painstaking negotiations. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said: “China welcomes this important consensus reached in the negotiations on Iranian nuclear issue. This is good news for the world today. The consensus has laid down a solid foundation for the parties concerned to reach a comprehensive agreement in the negotiations to come.” And it is a plus for the “new model of big countries relationship” China and the US are forging.

In June 2013, President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama reached a historical consensus at their Sunnylands summit in California, to build this new model. As President Xi Jinping defined it at the time, this new relationship would be characterized by “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”

What does “no conflict” and “no confrontation” mean? It means that President Xi Jinping and President Obama are determined to avoid the so-called “Thucydides trap”. That means China and the United States will never follow the historical pattern of conflict between a rising power and an established power going back to Athens and Sparta in ancient times. They have made clear that this is their common political will.

What does mutual respect mean? Mutual respect is the precondition for developing cooperation between China and the United States. The relations between different countries are like the relations between human beings. Mutual respect lays the foundation for good faith cooperation. The same thing applies to the relations between major countries.

What does win-win cooperation mean? It means that both benefit by following this path as both China and the US have through economic cooperation that has achieved robust growth over the past 36 years. Win-win is a cardinal principle that will make Sino-American cooperation sustainable and enduring.

Three Dimensions of Cooperation

China-US cooperation is multi-dimensional. It covers three areas:  global challenges; bilateral trade, economic, cultural and educational cooperation; and military exchanges and security cooperation.

The common challenges facing mankind have never been so daunting as they are today — climate change, nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, natural disasters, drug trafficking, just to name a few. No country, no matter how powerful it is, is able to meet these challenges alone. Common challenges bring people together. Mankind is bound to unite for its survival.

When China and US, two largest economies in the world, cooperate, it makes a difference. November 2014, President Xi Jinping and President Obama made a joint pledge on reducing pollution and carbon gas emissions.  As a result, the upcoming United Nations conference on climate change to be held in Paris from Nov. 30th to Dec. 10th  this year looks much more promising.

Nuclear weapons proliferation also poses a serious threat to international peace and security. Of all the global challenges it is the most complicated. The North Korean nuclear issue is the other major concern along with Iran. The Six-Party Talks on this issue have so far stalled for six years and at present show no sign of resuming any time soon. Even so, the fact that China and US have agreed to pursue the goal of denuclearization on Korean Peninsula has kept the issue from getting out of control. The year 1950 witnessed violent confrontation between China and US on the Korean theater, but 2015 is not 1950. China-US cooperation has been a significant factor in keeping the lid on this conflict.

Such cooperation, whether on Iran, North Korea or climate change,  is an important building block for the new model of the major countries relationship. The way to conceive of this relationship is as a big house. It has to be built gradually block by block. The more building blocks laid, the faster that house will be built. As President Xi Jinping has put it: ”A sound China-US cooperation can become a ballast stone of world stability and a booster of world peace. ”

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