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Foreign Policy

How to Strengthen Sino-US Relations?

Jan 22 , 2015
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

Now that the Unites States midterm election is over, the USA is poised for yet another Presidential election campaign for 2016. The Chinese are hoping that the Obama administration will take good care of Sino-US relations in the next two years. It is generally believed that every US president values his legacy. For Obama, many people believe that one possible satisfactory legacy will be in foreign affairs, rather than in domestic politics, since his fellow Democrats have lost control of both the Senate and the House. This observation has been reinforced by his recent decision to change the nearly 60-year-old US hostile policy towards Cuba and to establish a US Embassy in Havana in the next few months, as well as the possible resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran. Under such circumstances, people in China have naturally become concerned about what the Obama administration will do about Sino-US relations in the next two years.

The unfortunate news is that Obama signed the Naval Vessel Transfer Act passed by the US Congress to sell 4 Perry-class guided missile frigates to Taiwan. No US president, since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the US from Jimmy Cater to George W. Bush, has sold so many arms to Taiwan as Obama. Obama’s decision to sell four frigates to Taiwan has further strengthened his “championship” position in US arms sales to Taiwan. As relations across the Taiwan Strait have been peaceful, the recent US sale of the four frigates to Taiwan is particularly unfortunate, and harmful to both Sino-US relations and cross-Strait relations.

Another event, equally unfortunate and damaging, is the US failure to prevent Taiwan’s unofficial representative office from holding a so-called “flag-raising ceremony” in the Twin Oaks Estate in Washington, DC on January 1, 2015. The US side eventually expressed disappointment with Taiwan’s actions, and said that the “ceremony” was not consistent with the US one-China policy.

Obama’s decision to sell four frigates to Taiwan is closely associated with the US strategy of rebalancing in Asia. This will go down in history as one negative legacy of Obama’s China policy.

In Beijing on November 12, 2014, Obama said that building strong relations with China is the core of the US strategy of rebalancing to Asia. Regrettably, the continued US arms sales to Taiwan, as well as the Taiwan “flag-raising ceremony” all went against the establishment of strong relations between China and the US. How to carry out its strategy of rebalancing to Asia in the next two years will be a serious test for the Obama administration’s sincerity in advancing China-US relations. To better serve the interest of both the US and China, as well as that of Asia and the world, the US should refrain from doing anything that may damage Sino-US relations, and it should focus on doing things that gather positive energy for building a new type of big power relations with China.

Through constant efforts from both China and the US, there has been sound progress in bilateral relations, in terms of closer cooperation and better mutual trust between the two countries. This will have a long-lasting influence on the positive development of Sino-US relations. And, it is now time for both sides to make new and continued efforts for more progress.

There is an urgent need for both sides to make new efforts for new progress, such as maintaining momentum for top-level leaders’ communication, taking measures to ensure an increase in bilateral trade and investment, and making efforts to conclude an investment protection agreement at an early date. It will help world peace, stability and prosperity for the two countries to continue to strengthen security cooperation and military-to-military exchanges, and to work together to fulfill obligations made in the joint statement on climate change. As citizens of both countries now can apply for 5 or 10-year multiple visas, personnel exchanges have been increased. Both countries should redouble their efforts to promote people-to-people exchanges in tourism, business and education programs.

It is our hope that the Obama administration will leave a satisfactory legacy in promoting US-China relations by enhancing mutual strategic trust and pragmatic cooperation between China and the US. It is risky and unworthy for the US to do anything that harms Sino-US relations, even some tricks that are carefully-planned and presumably intended for limited leverage or balancing purposes.

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