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Foreign Policy

Post-APEC Xi-Obama Meetings Bolster China-U.S. Relations

Nov 28 , 2014

On Nov. 7-11, China hosted the APEC summit, rolling out the red carpet for 21 APEC leaders. Following the APEC meetings, were exclusive Xi-Obama talks on the evenings of Nov.11 and Nov.12, which provided an opportunity for China and the U.S. to bolster their bilateral relations.

It seems the presidents’ face-to-face talk can become a routine. In June 2013, Xi and Obama met for a two-day informal summit in Sunnylands, California. In September, they met again at the St. Petersburg G20 summit. In March 2014, Xi and Obama met on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Hague. The Beijing meeting was the second time for them to meet this year.

Obviously, good personal relations between President Xi and President Obama could play a big role in setting policies and achieving better relations. Just as what they both emphasized at the meetings, a stable bilateral interaction is essential to both countries and both want to continue framing the relationship in a “win-win” way. China and U.S. cooperation could avoid the historic pitfall of strategic rivalry between an existing power and an emerging power.

What's more, both countries are trying to discover new areas for cooperation. The issues under discussion ranged from long-established topics, such as trade and investment, the North Korea nuclear issue, climate change to recently emerged global issues, like the Ebola outbreak and the rise of the Islamic State (IS). These new issues provide more potential fort China-U.S. cooperation.

On the topic of climate change, China and the U.S. jointly announced their plans. China released its first-ever timeline for the peak of its greenhouse gas emission. The U.S. also promised to emit 26-28 percent less in 2025 than it did in 2005. The plans have big political and economic implications. The new emission targets send a powerful political signal that both countries hope to break the deadlock of current international climate negotiations. In term of the plans' economic implication, according the evaluation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions yields create economic benefits, which could be the new growth pillars of both economies.

In fighting the Ebola epidemic, China showed its willingness to take on a bigger role in addressing international crises. It is reported that China decides to dispatch 480 PLA medical staff to treat Ebola patients and build a 100-bed treatment center in Liberia, the first such facility in the three countries most impacted by Ebola.

On the issue of counterterrorism, China frankly indicated to be hesitant about directly joining the U.S.-led coalition against IS. However, President Xi repeatedly emphasized Beijing’s commitment to fighting terrorism and its willingness to cooperate. China is willing to play a role in supporting political stability and preventing terrorism in the world.

In regards to military relations, both sides agreed to speed up consultations on a mutual reporting mechanism for major military operations and a code of conduct for naval and air military encounters. Keeping military-to-military contacts stable and regular has been a stated goal for Obama and Xi Jinping. The Xi-Obama talks will obviously help improve China-US military ties.

Finding new ways to facilitate trade and investment is still on the priority list of the two leaders' agenda. China announced to lift some restrictions on foreign investment. The new regulations will reduce the number of sectors in which foreign companies are required to form joint ventures with domestic business or are limited to minority stakes from 79 to 35.

During the APEC summit and the Xi-Obama discussions, both countries agreed to launch strategic studies of the Free Trade Area of the Asian Pacific (FTAAP) and expand the discussion on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA).

The FTAAP could be a bridge between the TPP and ASEAN’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would unite ASEAN with the six countries it already has FTAs with (including Japan, India and China). The FTAAP will create a substantially larger FTA, grouping 21 economies, which account for 40 percent of the world's population, 54 percent of its economic output and 44 percent of trade. The U.S. is one of the most important members of APEC, and it's impossible to launch any initiative on the FTAAP without the U.S.’s endorsement. This time, the agreement on “the strategic studies,” though small steps, will represent big progress for building FTAAP.

The ITA agreement is another significant achievement. In fact, a year ago there existed great difference between China and the US on the ITA over whether more than 100 of the 250 or so product categories should be excluded from the final agreement. It's estimated that the global IT products market is worth about $4 trillion. So it is easy to expect that China and the U.S. both will benefit from the ITA agreement.

These examples and issues show that China and the U.S. have a huge stake in their political and economic cooperation; when they work together, the whole world will benefit.

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