Xi opens new era for Sino-US relations

Xi and Obama take a 40-minute walk in the Annenberg Retreat Photo: sina.com.cn

Today, no other relationship in the world is as profound and important as the Sino-US relationship. Aware of its significance, the countries have deepened their engagements and expressed interest in taking the relationship to new level. During their summit at the Sunnylands, California in June 2013, and Chinese president Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama agreed to establish a new type of great power relationship between the two countries.

The Xi-Obama meeting made a new blueprint for the future development of the Sino-US relations. After the meeting, China’s high-ranking officials paid a series of visits to the US, holding dialogues with US officials on how to construct the new relationship.

Connotations of the relationship

Xi proposed to build a new type of great power relationship when he visited the US in the capacity of vice president of China in February 2012. Following that, the proposal was incorporated into the report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November 2012. In September 2013, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the US and defined the new relationship as no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

When he met with Obama in June 2013, Xi talked about Chinese high-ranking officials’ understanding of the new relationship, with which Obama agreed. In a speech on November 20, 2013, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice indicated the US would seek to establish the new type of great power relationship, strengthen cooperation in the common interests of both countries and keep the inevitable competition under control. She said China’s reform is an opportunity the US must seize.

New era of mutual respect, win-win cooperation

Since former US President Richard M. Nixon presented seedling of California redwood to Chinese officials when he visited China in 1972, California redwood has been regarded as the symbol of friendship between the two countries. During the meeting in June 2013, Obama presented a bench made of California redwood to Xi.

Xi stressed that China and the US should keep going forward steadily toward the establishment of the new type of great power relationship. Obama pointed out that the US would seize the opportunity to push the Sino-US relations to a higher level.

The Xi-Obama meeting has created a new path for the Sino-US relations. Xi also pointed out that “the Chinese Dream” and the American Dream have a lot in common. Obama said the US welcomes the rise of China.

Chinese media reported that it was a frank and friendly meeting, which started a new era for the Sino-US relations. The US is re-shaping itself during its historical decline; China is becoming more confident and adamant with its constantly growing comprehensive strength. Cooperation will supersede confrontation at least in the next 10 years.

Xi: Thucydides' trap must be avoided

“We should try our best to avoid Thucydides' Trap. The idea that superpowers should seek hegemony doesn’t apply to China because China has no gene for this,” said Xi in an interview with The World Post, affiliated to The Huffington Post.

Thucydides's Trap refers to ancient Greek historian Thucydides' observation that a rising power can alarm an established power to such an extent that war is inevitable.

The China threat theory has been talked about since the start of China’s reform and opening up. According to takungpao.com, confrontation is much likely to occur between China and the US. With China’s rise and the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, friction between the two countries has been spiraling up in political, economic and military areas.

However, China and the US have more and more convergence in areas such as climate change and anti-terrorism. Wang Yi said, “No conflict and no confrontation is not enough; we need to work together on many more issues on the basis of mutual respect in order to achieve a win-win situation.”

What should China and the US do to establish the new type of great power relationship? First, China and the US should respect each other’s core interests without crossing the “red line”; second, the two countries should maintain a relationship of equality and mutual benefit, without forcing each other to follow their own rules of the game. The two countries not only need to understand how to seek common ground while reserving differences, but also have to learn to turn the differences into similarities.

Exchanges in 2014

The Fifth China-US Consultation on Asia-Pacific Affairs took place in Beijing on January 22, 2014, presided over by Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang and Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. On the same day, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State John Kerry attended the Geneva II Conference held in Montreux, Switzerland to mediate the Syrian issue.

On January 23, the Inter-sessional Meeting of China-US Strategic Security Dialogue was held in Beijing, chaired by Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

“All these reflect the close relationship between China and US and imply the fact that officials of the two countries are taking concrete actions to establish the new type of great power relationship,” said Zhou Wenzhong, former Chinese ambassador to the US.

Zhou predicted that Chinese and US officials would meet in three multilateral conferences in 2014—the Third Nuclear Security Summit to be held in the Hague in March, the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November and the APEC Summit in Beijing in autumn.

In addition, more than 90 Sino-US dialogue and cooperation mechanisms will be launched this year. The most important is the annual Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is going to take place in Beijing this summer.

However, Yuan Peng, deputy director of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, pointed out that this year’s US mid-term elections would affect the Sino-US relations and the internal political affairs will distract Obama’s attention from China. Taiwan and human rights issues will still be obstacles to the progress of the Sino-US relations.

The newly appointed US ambassador to China Max Baucus will assume his post in Beijing this year. He said China and the US would start a new adventure and a new chapter.

Xi’s suggestions

Xi has put forward suggestions from four aspects on how to establish the new type of great power relationship.

First, China and the US should improve the level of dialogue and mutual trust. We should institutionalize the meeting of officials of the two countries during multilateral conferences and make the most of the existing 90 inter-governmental communication mechanisms.

Second, China and the US should cooperate on a practical basis. The US should take active measures to promote a balance in trade and investment between the two countries.

Third, China and the US should establish a new interaction mode. The two countries should work more closely in areas such as network security, climate change, space security, piracy and international crime, and disaster reduction and prevention.

Fourth, China and the US should explore new ways to manage disagreements and establish a new military relationship that matches the new type of great power relationship.

Obama has given an active response to the suggestions. He indicated that the US puts great emphasis on the Sino-US relations. He is willing to establish a new cooperation mode on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit to deal with challenges across the globe.

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