Language : English 简体 繁體
Foreign Policy

Mutual Understanding Leads to More Trust

Sep 02 , 2014
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

China-US relations have gone through 35 years of development since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979. In the past, nobody could imagine the achievements that have been reached today. However, the issue of a “trust deficit” has always troubled politicians and scholars of both countries, because of an increased chance of strategic misjudgments, or even the risk of accidental conflicts. In fact, the contradictions, disputes, or conflicts among countries have not abated as a result of the increased interdependence. Under these circumstances, the state is still a “self-help” actor and a “security dilemma” still exists. Thus, to achieve mutual trust among countries is not an easy task.

Chen Jimin

Take the US-Japan relationship as an example. Although the United States has made a security commitment, Japan has not put its own security in the hands of the United States. In recent years, the Japanese government has veered further right, partly because they questioned the effectiveness of United States commitment. In addition, Edward Snowden disclosed that not only emerging powers such as China and Russia were being monitored, but U.S. traditional allies, such as Germany, Japan, France, etc. were also on the list. It is clear that strategic mutual trust among the allies is not easy either.

In this sense, it is not strange that China and US, with their differences in the institutions, values, cultures and stages of development, have not fostered a relationship of trust in the past 35 years.  However, it is entirely possible to achieve mutual understanding among countries. Actually, in international relations, the trust between nations are always swinging on a pendulum between strategic trust and distrust, with a large area in the middle called strategic understanding. Complete trust is not the normal state of inter-state relations, whereas mutual understanding has become the cornerstone for promoting and maintaining a firm and stable relationship among countries.

It should be noted that mutual understanding between China and the US not only exists, but has also deepened in recent years. Take Sino-US military relations as an example. As China has modernized its military, it has released three White Papers on China’s Defense in 2006, 2010, 2013 respectively in order to alleviate the concern of some countries, including the United States, over the military build-up. The whitepapers have aimed to reveal the strategic intentions of China’s military build-up to the outside world. Such practices increase the Chinese military transparency, which the United States has welcomed. However, the United States remains concerned about China’s military modernization, as can be seen in the “Chinese military power report” released by US Department of Defense almost every year since the new century. However, the recent reports also acknowledged the feasibility and rationality of China’s military development. This understanding is also reflected in China-US military exchanges. This year for the first time, China’s navy was invited to participate in US-led military exercises in the Pacific Rim.

Mutual understanding has two important roles – it leads to respect for core interests and major concerns, and expands consensus and common interests, which is the foundation for a long-term healthy and stable Sino-US relationship. Mutual understanding also tempers the differences and reduces strategic misjudgment or miscalculation, which will avoid setbacks in the relationship.

For this reason, the two countries should work together to enhance mutual understanding as the major future objective, which will gradually enhance mutual trust.

First, we should make the existing channels of communication between the governments more smooth and effective. The building of confidence depends on the cognition and judgment of each side’s strategic intentions, hence the necessity of timely information exchanges.

Secondly, more effort should be given to promoting people to people exchanges, thus consolidating the social basis for better Sino-US relations. Public opinion will be considered in the decision-making of each government, hence the importance of positive perceptions and understanding among the public of both countries.

Third, it is necessary to set up more effective crisis management tools between the two countries. It is natural that conflicts of interests exist among countries. And relations may always be affected by unpredictable incidents . For China and the US, it is imperative to prevent and manage crises.

In short, the lack of trust is an enduring phenomenon in international relations, which is not unique to the Sino-US relationship. Thus, promoting mutual understanding should be the focus for a healthy development of relations among countries. This is especially true for China and the US in their efforts to build a new model of a major power relationship.

Chen Jimin, Ph.D, a Guest Research Fellow of the Center of Peace and Development Studies, China Association for International Friendly Contact. 

You might also like
Back to Top