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Foreign Policy

Win-Win at the Xi-Obama Summit

Nov 25 , 2014
  • Yang Jiemian

    President Emeritus, Shanghai Institute for Int'l Studies

Based on traditional thinking about power games, some analyses on the Xi Jinping-Obama summit on November 11-13 focused on who won and who lost. However, if we shift our perspective to win-win cooperation, we find that both countries are winners. Actually, President Xi and President Obama made the summit a success at a time of intricate changes in international relations and a sensitive time for China-US relations. Before President Obama’s China trip, some predicted that it would be just another presidential trip. But this trip turned out to be of special significance. Although the real significance of the meetings will gradually unfold, the Beijing Summit is already being appreciated to have the following achievements.

The Beijing Summit produced principled agreements with long-term significance. In the last two years, China-U.S. relations have experienced both ups and downs. The informal summit between President Xi and President Obama at Sunnylands, California in June 2013 produced upbeat concepts and principles for a new type of China-U.S. relationship. However, a number of events ranging from cyber security to U.S. positions on the maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea precipitated a downturn in relations. It was even said that China-U.S. relations would drift toward more frontal confrontations in the wake of the U.S. putting five PLA officers on the wanted list, as well as its close surveillance along the Chinese coast. The Beijing Summit has not only halted this downward spiraling, but also added new momentum. Most significantly, the Beijing Summit represents a joint effort by the two major countries to confirm their cooperation in promoting stronger economic growth, dealing with global issues, and countering terrorism and extremism. This is the strategic framework within which the two countries will share their responsibilities and join their efforts.

The Beijing Summit is of special significance to China-U.S. relations in the next two years. President Obama came to China in the wake of a discouraging mid-term election, which formed a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. President Obama is going to confront a tough time during his remaining two years at the White House. As a matter of fact, the China-U.S. relations have often been affected during the U.S. presidential campaigning period. Against this particular background, the two countries urgently needed to achieve more tangible outcomes, so as to vindicate the importance of their bilateral relationship. The Beijing Summit has achieved some substantive and pragmatic outcomes, such as investment facilitation, high-tech cooperation and visa conveniences. The more beneficial to both countries, the more China-U.S. relations will be consolidated by domestic bases. At the same time, a stable and predictable China-U.S. relationship will most likely ensure a less uncertain match-up during the power transition in the United States.

The Beijing Summit helped ease tension in the Asian Pacific Region. Since the Obama administration began its “Rebalancing Strategy” in 2010, the developments in the Asian Pacific Region have become increasingly complicated. With pronounced tensions over a China-Japan confrontation, maritime disputes, and a reinforced U.S.-led alliance network; the Asian Pacific Region has seen a larger increase in military budgets and arms races than other regions. The Asia-Pacific Region is where China and the United States interact the most. Therefore, the two countries’ reaffirmation of cooperative rather than conflicting policies helped ease some of these tensions. Along with the consultation and coordination between China and the United States to prepare for the Beijing Summit, China improved its relationship with Japan and Vietnam, and also put the China-Pilipino disputes on the back burner. It is expected that, in the wake of the Beijing Summit, China, the United States and some Asian countries will continue the process of compromise and cooperation.

The Beijing Summit adds new and positive energy to the ongoing efforts to deal with global challenges. The two leaders have pledged to jointly meet the challenges of, among other things, international terrorism, non-proliferation and climate change. China and the United States, together with other major players, are extremely important for a successful transformation of the international system, which was acknowledged at the Beijing Summit. The two leaders also pledged to promote the global economy at the G-20 platform, and take concrete measures to ensure the financial order.

Having said this, we cannot expect that the Beijing Summit would solve all problems in China-U.S. Relations. Many of the problems are deep-rooted in their different approaches to history, culture, political systems and economic development. Therefore, these problems will not easily go away and will always exert their impact on China-U.S. relations. In the near and mid-term, the two countries are confronting the following three major questions:

The first is a conceptual question. China and the United States interpret the New Model of Major-Country Relations in their own ways. Besides, the two countries will continue to differ on the definition of the international system and order. Moreover, with new issues and problems such as new global commons and cyber sovereignty, China and the United States will continue to differ and debate.

The second is how to define their regional roles and interests, as well as how to live with each other. The two countries have three obvious differences in this respect. The United States stresses its leadership and dominant role in the regional political, security and military affairs, whereas China advocates for equality and mutual respect. Furthermore, the United States tries hard to adhere to its overall economic leadership, whereas China demands equal rights, not only in trading and investment, but also in institution building and rule-making. Finally the United States is suspicious of China’s regionalism proposals, such as a security architecture and the New Silk Road Web.

The third is the bilateral difficulties. There are always issues and problems related to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. Recently, the Hong Kong question and cyber democracy have also become hot button issues. When taking a Republican controlled Congress into consideration, it is expected that the China Issue will be raised over and over again.

All in all, the two countries should transcend the mentality of a zero-sum game, and place their main focus on cooperation. The outside world should also be free from the calculation of who is the winner or loser, but join the efforts for win-win cooperation in both countries. After all, good China-US relations are beneficial to the whole world.

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