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Foreign Policy

New Mechanisms Will Protect U.S.-China Relations

Apr 18 , 2017
  • Wu Zhenglong

    Senior Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

The meeting of the heads of state of China and the US at the Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida achieved a great deal. It not only charted a course for the future of China-US relations, but it also established new cooperation mechanisms that will protect bilateral relations.

The two leaders established a good working relationship. Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled a long way to meet US President Donald Trump, which in itself demonstrated China’s sincere wish to build a cooperative relationship. The two reportedly talked for over seven hours, with each explaining to the other their respective priorities, which helped increase their mutual understanding and trust.

The leading role of the two heads of state in bilateral relations was reaffirmed. The two leaders agreed to stay in close contact via meetings, calls and other forms of communication, and Trump happily accepted an invitation from President Xi to pay a state visit to China later this year. The two presidents may also meet at other multilateral meetings this year. The more Trump and Xi have the chance to talk, the more they can play an important role in bilateral relations, the more they will be able to improve cooperation, and raise the international community’s expectations for the future of China-US relations.

The two heads of state established new tools for cooperation, agreeing to establish four high-level dialogue mechanisms covering diplomacy and security, economics, law enforcement and cybersecurity, and social and people-to-people exchanges. They also initiated dialogue mechanisms on economics and on diplomacy and security, making initial progress with both. Both sides also pledged to establish a military dialogue mechanism between their joint chiefs of staff.

These moves are a continuation and development of the strategic and economic dialogues established with China by the past three US administrations, covering politics, economics, the military, security and people-to-people exchanges. These mechanisms provide important guarantees for keeping China-US relations on the right track in future.

The new dialogue mechanisms have the following specific functions:

Improve communication: Most members of the Trump administration are new to politics and have no experience of international politics or working with China, meaning they are unaware of the history and complexity of specific issues. Only by strengthening communication, conducting frank exchanges, and breaking down issues in detail and discussing how to deal with them will it be possible to enhance mutual understanding and reduce misunderstandings and misjudgements.

Enhance trust: Being up-front about policies is the key to building mutual trust. The US should recognize that China is firmly committed to the path of peaceful development, does not wish to play a zero-sum game, is not seeking hegemony, and is willing to work with the US to maintain world peace, stability and prosperity. Only then will it be possible to enhance strategic mutual trust and solve deep-seated challenges that hinder the development of Sino-US relations. 

Expand cooperation: The complementarity between the economies of China and the US far exceeds any competition between them, and the need for bilateral cooperation far outweighs any differences of opinion. Both sides should use the new dialogue mechanisms to strengthen their positions, formulate lists of key areas of cooperation, strive for early results, deliver greater benefits to the people of both countries and the people of all countries, and consolidate the foundations for mutually beneficial cooperation.

Manage differences: Differences and contradictions between China and the US must be treated rationally and objectively, and should be resolved and managed constructively and without confrontation, in order to avoid interference with the bigger picture of bilateral relations or threatening derailment. As China’s national strength increases, its ability to shape the China-US relationship grows. China must be creative and proactive in turning negative factors into positive ones, in order to minimize differences and contradictions.

Now that there is a roadmap for China-US relations, the leading role of the two heads of state has been established, and a new dialogue framework is in place, there is reason to believe that China-US relations can overcome future difficulties, eliminate interference, and progress on the right track to reach new heights.

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