The 6th round of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and the 5th round of High-level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE) have come to a successful conclusion. There are over 300 achievements in the outcome lists of the dialogue and consultation. This number sets a new record, and more importantly, each achievement is very concrete and gives clear guidance on China-US cooperation, not only in the bilateral sphere, but also on regional and global dimensions.
As stated by President Xi Jinping in his address at the joint opening ceremony of the S&ED and CPE, if China and the United States work together, the two countries could achieve major undertakings that serve their own interests and those of the world. However, if the two countries are in confrontation, it will surely spell disaster for both of them and the wider world. It is all the more important that China and the US stand high and look far; staying committed to cooperation and avoiding confrontation benefits not only both countries, but the world as a whole. When faced with problems, it is crucial that China and the US work together to resolve them instead of simply finding the problem fearsome or letting it overtake them.
President Obama pointed out in his statement to the S&ED, that the US welcomes the emergence of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China, and is committed to the shared goal of developing over time a “new model” of relations with China. The U.S. should remain determined – even in a relationship as complex as that of China and the United States – to ensure that cooperation defines the overall relationship.
The two Presidents shared their deep insights on this important relationship with great sincerity. Both countries made great efforts to dispel the mist overshadowing their relationship in the past months and reaffirmed a shared commitment to the building of new model of major-power relations.
Both sides reaffirmed their strategic intentions. Irrational misunderstanding and miscalculation is one of the major risks that may undermine the overall China-US relationship, hence in-depth strategic communication between the two sides is of utmost importance. In this round of S&ED and CPE, China and the US made good efforts to clarify their strategic intentions. China re-emphasized its unswerving commitment to a path of peaceful development and safeguarding the peace, stability, and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region as well as the world. China also affirmed that it would not seek to “expel the U.S. out of Asia”. The US underscored that neither its rebalancing policy nor its military alliances in the region were targeted at China, and that it had no intention to contain China. These are not diplomatic parlance but reflect a fundamental strategic orientation. Both sides recognize that the world today has undergone profound changes, and a “new cold war” is not a sensible choice. It would be unwise for anyone who lives in the 21st century to think and behave in a way of the 20th or even the 19th century.
Both sides reaffirmed the effective way of cooperation. The China-US relationship is one of the most important, and at the same time, most complex bilateral relationships in the world. Cooperation and competition are often intertwined. Such a complicated and multi-faceted pattern is very likely to be sustained for the years to come. It properly handled, it will be mutually beneficial; otherwise, it would lead to destructive competition or even conflicts. The key here is to reduce disturbing factors and focus on the positive agendas. The following issues deserve special attention and efforts from both sides.
Firstly, the negotiation of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) should be driven forward. The accumulated volume of investment between China and the United States has exceeded 100 billion US dollars. Investment from China to the US has been soaring in recent years, making U.S. the second largest overseas destination of Chinese investment. Positive progress has been made after several rounds of BIT negotiations. The two sides should roll up their sleeves to speed up the negotiations for an early conclusion. This will give fresh and strong impetus to the growth of China-US economic ties in the long run.
Secondly, the challenge of climate change should be addressed. Both China and the United States are confident and determined to achieve their respective targets of carbon emission reduction by 2020, and are working on their plans for further reduction beyond 2020. At the same time, the two countries are actively promoting cooperation on clean energy and energy efficiency. These efforts will not only benefit the people of China and the US now but also future generations. This perfectly illustrates the strategic significance of China-US cooperation in a broad global perspective.
Thirdly, China and the US should further strengthen their military-to-military relations. Chinese Naval vessels are participating in the RIMPAC2014 in Hawaii. The two militaries are pushing forward consultations to put in place a mutual notification mechanism of major military action and a code of conduct of naval and air military security on the high seas. Cultivating habits of cooperation and refraining from rivalry are essential for deepened mutual trust and enhanced strategic stability between the two nations.
The two governments are also exploring the possibility of extending the term of validity of business and student visas on a reciprocal basis. An agreement in this regard would enable Chinese and Americans to enjoy more “think-and-go” travels, which would help to promote cooperation and friendship between the two nations.
Both China and the US also reaffirmed the right approach to manage their differences. It’s natural for two large countries like China and the US to have some differences. The key to overcoming these differences has proven to be the principles of mutual respect and equality. As President Xi Jinping quoted from Confucius in his speech, “no one should do to others what he does not want others to do to himself”. The American side obviously embraced this ancient Chinese philosophy as a Golden Rule. Therefore the crux of the issue will be how to abide by this rule in the real world.
Both sides agreed that there is no direct conflict of interests and irreconcilable contradiction on maritime issues between them. The American side reiterated that they take no position on the territorial and maritime disputes in the region. In fact, the two countries share significant common interests in securing freedom of navigation as well as safeguarding maritime security, and that would entail effective China-US cooperation and collaboration.
Both China and the US are proud nations with great dignity. So-called Microphone Diplomacy will not do any good and will only lead to complications and an escalation of tensions. The only wise and proper approach to address those thorny issues is to have candid and constructive dialogue, and to work together in good faith to find solutions.
It is indeed a daunting task for China and the US to explore and build a new model of major-power relations. This requires not only strategic reaffirmation but also reassurance in real actions. Both sides need to translate their strategic consensus and good will into actual policies and activities. That will serve the best interests of China, the United States, and the world at large.
Xue Junying is a Researcher at the US Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.