In early June, President
Opening A New Window at Sunnylands
This will be accomplished under the leadership of President Xi, who took power this Spring. Apparently, given China’s projected development, some existing structural difficulties between the two countries may diminish if not disappear completely. As long as China acquires its own capabilities to launch a long-range commercial airplane, which is projected to take place in the late 2010s, the days when Boeing will continue to sell jetfighters to Taiwan are numbered. Though the US arms sale to Taiwan may not end immediately, it will be unlikely to take this form anymore.
However, the two countries may face new emerging challenges. Such challenges could take various forms to unseat American dominance in outer space, maritime space, as well as cyber space; the so-called Global Commons. Americans may particularly feel concerned when reading their National Intelligence Council’s report of Global Trends 2030, which forecasted that the US would no longer be the sole superpower at that time. Though the US is still dominant, it has been exacerbated by its heightened suspicion of China’s strategic intent.
In the meantime, China’s concern over the US ‘pivot’ in the Pacific is no less than the concern from the US. In Beijing’s eyes, the US high-handed ‘rebalancing’ has greatly boosted Manila’s desire to alter some of its long-held maritime positions. China is more worried that the US shift towards Tokyo in its territorial dispute with Beijing could have led to Japan’s attempt to revise its Constitution and blur the definition of aggression – it is indisputable that the imperial Japan committed brutal aggression in the last century.
Just as significant mistrust is surfacing, Chinese and American leaders have decided to meet. Such a meeting may not much stress tangible deliverables, but will rather be a relaxed exchange of respective views concerning bilateral trust, regional stability, and global trends. The American interlocutor may find that his Chinese counterpart is more preoccupied by his domestic agenda rather than challenging America; and the Chinese leader shall have more time to listen to the US President explain his rationale to be back in Asia.
While no one expects Beijing and Washington to reconcile all their differences through this visit, especially in the United States’ role in backing Japan’s interests in the territorial disputes, China and the US may find some unexpected areas of convergence, such as Japan’s rising nationalism that has gone so far as to attempt to deny Tokyo’s history of aggression. China and the US shall find a lot more similar interests, ranging from DPRK/Iran’s nuclear issues, to forging a mutually acceptable code of conduct in the cyber domain.
The casual style of the summit at the Sunnylands estate, without much diplomatic protocol, offers a unique opportunity to catalyze the presidents’ ‘chemical reaction.’ To be sure, respective national interests will limit the extent of their exchange, but the nurturing of their personal trust could also expand their level of assessing one another’s intent, and subsequently, reflecting upon the definition of national interest. Instead of realizing a self-fulfilling prophesy of mutual suspicion, China and the US should jointly open a new window at Sunnylands and breathe the air of freshly discovered trust.
Many have recently weighed in on the ‘new type of great-power relationship.’ The US-Soviet relationship during the Cold War has been typical: mutual hedging, mutual deterring, and zero-sum. In contrast, China and the US ought to cultivate a collaborative yet healthily competitive interaction. Needless to say, the two countries won’t be able to avoid competition in almost all areas – business, science and technology, defense, etc. But they shall compete cooperatively and constructively. After all, China has a lot to catch up on, especially in education, public health and in the area of innovation. Even if China’s economic output is on par with America in the next decade, the gulf of per capita production and income will still remain vast and will be nearly impossible to be ironed out within a century.
Hopefully the summit in the desert of South California will build a consensus of respecting each other’s core legitimate interests, measured against international laws, so as to frame an ordered and predictable bilateral relationship, as well as international order. It is time to build a rule-based institution for China and the US, and all other countries, to engage in and flourish.
Shen Dingli is a Professor and Associate Dean at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.