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Foreign Policy

How to Build A New Model of Major Power Relations with Concrete Actions

Nov 25 , 2014
  • Tao Wenzhao

    Researcher, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


President Obama’s state visit to China and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping produced rich results. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to build a new model of major power relations and reached important common understanding on many bilateral, regional and global issues, thus deepening and expanding cooperation and giving new impetus to bilateral relations. Results of the visit can be summed up as in the following four aspects.

First, economic cooperation between the two countries has been deepened. For the past thirty-plus years, economic cooperation and trade have always been the ballast and propeller of China-U.S. relations. The 1999 agreement on China’s WTO membership and the 2000 U.S. decision on permanent normal trade relations with China brought the economic and trade relations between the two countries into a new stage of unprecedented growth. Now that a new stage has been introduced, it is necessary to improve the quality of bilateral economic relations and trade with increased two-way investments. It was decided at the fifth S & E Dialogue in 2013 to substantively activate negotiations of a bilateral investment treaty. Once successfully concluded, the agreement will greatly facilitate in-depth convergence of the two economies. This Xi-Obama meeting reconfirmed the core significance of economic ties in China-U.S. relations and required the negotiation teams to report directly to the national leaders, turning the negotiation a personal commitment of both heads of states and therefore forcefully boosting the negotiation process.

Second, cooperation in climate change is strengthened. Since the signing of the Ten-Year Framework for Cooperation on Energy and Environment in 2008, cooperation in the fields of energy and climate change has been a highlight of bilateral relations, with new progress announced at the annual Strategic Economic Dialogue and later on S & E Dialogue. This time the China-U.S. Joint Announcement on Climate Change announced United States’ intentions to reduce emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%. China’s intends to achieve peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. These are solemn commitments of the two countries to the international community. As the U.S. and China are the two largest economies, largest energy consumers, and largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, their leading role will undoubtedly help advance international cooperation and facilitate the establishment of an international mechanism to deal with climate change at next year’s climate summit in Paris.

Third, people-to-people exchanges have been further promoted. Such exchanges cover extensive areas and involve numerous types of people. As exchanges between the two societies, they are indeed the social foundation on which China-U.S. relations can be strengthened. In the past thirty years and more, even when political relations were in difficult times, people-to-people exchanges continued and helped the two countries to overcome difficulties to move forward. They have played the role of stabilizers in bilateral relations. In recent years, China and U.S. have been paying increased attention to such exchanges and have launched multiple programs including the 100,000 Strong Foundation to send American students to China. Last year 4 million people flew over the Pacific to the other country. And now the two sides have agreed to issue business or tourist visas with multiple entries and a maximum validity of ten years and student visa with a validity of up to five years, an action that will greatly facilitate exchanges.

Fourth, a new military-to-military relationship has been promoted. In the past years, mil-to-mil relationships have been a weak link in bilateral relations vacillated through cycles of resumption and interruption. Since 2013, military exchanges including high-level visits and joint military exercises have been more active than any time since the end of the Cold War, and for the first time have become a highlight in bilateral relations, which is very encouraging indeed. Development of mil-to-mil relations has been firmly supported by national leaders, who reconfirmed the vision to build a new type of mil-to-mil relationship commensurate to the new model of major power relations. Senior military officers now have frequent exchanges of visits and institutional measures established between the two sides are constantly improving. The 14th Western Pacific Naval Symposium in 2014 adopted the Code of Unplanned Encounters on the Sea and both China and U.S. are part of the deal. During President Obama’s visit, the two militaries agreed to establish a mutual notification mechanism on major military operations as well as a code of conduct on military security in international waters and space. These concrete measures for the two militaries to enhance mutual trust and strengthen cooperation will help deepen their mutual understanding and avoid misunderstanding or miscalculation at a strategic level.

With years of experience, we no longer have unrealistic ideas about China-U.S. relations, which have never been smooth. It is impossible for all the differences to be removed with just one state visit. More important is the direction of bilateral relations. At the press conference, Obama said, “President Xi and I have a common understanding about how the relationship between our nations can move forward. We agree that we can expand our cooperation where our interests overlap or align. When we have disagreements, we will be candid and clear about our intentions, and we will work to narrow those differences where possible.” It is hoped that the U.S. will conscientiously act in line with President Obama’s statement. The two sides should make joint efforts and accumulate every small progress towards the creation of a new model of major power relations.

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