The 7th China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the 6th China-US High-level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange just concluded in Washington D.C.. It was the first time the two meetings were convened simultaneously. By sending high-ranking officials to the meetings, both parties have shown continuing interests in the communication mechanisms.
There had been multiple tensions in China-US relations prior to the dialogues. With the US fixating on the South China Sea and information security, China was concerned about economic growth and international rights. The two countries had conspicuously divergent views in the four fields. The South China Sea issue is not new. But the US is very sensitive to China’s extremely efficient reclamation projects there. The Pentagon has explicitly asked China to stop immediately. The US has been especially worried about information security. It not only suspected government-supported Chinese hackers had profited from cyber attacks against the US, but also worried about alleged Chinese economic espionage. It complained that the Chinese government had been compromising American IT companies’ competitive advantages with claims of security concerns.
The Chinese side is very dissatisfied with US attempts to squeeze China’s space for development. Militarily, the US has been enhancing alliances and partnerships with China’s neighbors, and deploying more advanced conventional weapons to the region, displaying a very clear intention to contain China. In economy and trade, it has been accelerating TPP negotiations, trying to consolidate competitiveness of American exports and undermine China’s development through upgrading international trade standards. It is not only unwilling to take part in the China-advocated, interconnectivity-oriented Silk Road initiatives and the corresponding AIIB, but has tried hard to sabotage them via behind-the-scenes maneuvers. It is also unwilling to see the renminbi’s adoption as the world’s new reserves currency.
The purpose of dialogue is communication. The high-level China-US dialogues are meant to manage their disagreements and promote cooperation. None of the above four problems was solved in this round of dialogues. But mutual antagonism has more or less eased, and certain degree of agreement appeared possible on some regional concerns. Before the dialogues, China announced that its reclamation projects would soon come to an end, explaining that it was not the result of US pressures. As long as China gives timely explanations of its intentions, it will always be conducive to a constructive atmosphere for dialogue. That it chose to make that announcement prior to the dialogues showed the mechanism works.
Despite its serious concern about information security, the US displayed more impressive diplomatic courtesy than in previous sessions, avoiding unwarranted finger-pointing regarding the alleged Chinese theft of personal files of US federal employees. Such attitude created conditions for the two sides to build trust, reduce suspicion, and restore collaboration. The US side demonstrated a more open stance on China’s application for the RMB to become a new reserve currency for the IMF. Which also contributes to a constructive atmosphere for the upcoming summit meeting of the two countries’ leaders.
Many contradictions between China and the US have emerged with the progress of their relations. They can only be resolved through deepening bilateral ties. What the progress of bilateral ties has brought is overwhelmingly positive energy consistent with the two peoples’ wishes for peace and prosperity. People have very high expectations on the two parties’ future negotiations about an agreement on mutual investments, hoping that each side will shorten its own negative list. Even if China won’t take part in the TPP negotiations and become a member of it in the near future, and the US won’t join the AIIB for the time being, they can still share larger-scale two-way investment cooperation through reaching an agreement on mutual investments, boosting employment and equity earnings for both.
For a long time, the US has been accustomed to being the sole provider of the world’s public goods, and being the sole superpower. It has difficulty adapting to the fact that other countries, including China, are beginning to provide public goods regionally and globally, and that it is no longer the only rule-maker for the present-day world. Therefore, the US needs self-inspiration, system innovation, and readjustments. By revitalizing itself, the US may bring both fresh pressure and motivation for other countries. The latter may thus achieve faster progress, subjecting the US to new competitions.
Such is the current China-US relationship. Contradictions accompany development, development overcomes contradictions; competition stimulates progress, progress facilitates equality. China-US relationship is such a gradually maturing new type of relations. The two countries will find more challenges in their face in the next few decades. But since they can’t afford the consequences of confrontation, dialogue and cooperation will be their common choice. There will be more cooperation as both parties mature in mindset.