Sun­ny­lands spirit needed to rekin­dle re­la­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Sun­ny­lands, or the for­mer An­nen­berg Es­tate in RanchoMirage, Cal­i­for­nia, was lit­tle known to the world un­til Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama met there for an in­for­mal sum­mit early last June.

The two lead­ers, one who had just as­sumed the pres­i­dency in China and the other who had just started his sec­ond term, agreed to meet be­cause they could not wait for a pos­si­ble meet­ing on the side­lines of the G20 sum­mit in Rus­sia in Septem­ber 2013.

Al­though they had al­ready met dur­ing Xi’s trip to theUS as China’s vice-pres­i­dent in Fe­bru­ary 2012, it was very en­cour­ag­ing for China watch­ers to see the two lead­ers try­ing to un­der­stand each other bet­ter in a shirt­sleeves sum­mit. The sym­bol­ism of this was pro­found as rather than pre­sent­ing it as the tra­di­tional ri­valry be­tween ex­ist­ing and emerg­ing pow­ers, it set the tone for a new­type of ma­jor-coun­try re­la­tion­ship that aims to ex­pand co­op­er­a­tion and ef­fec­tively man­age dif­fer­ences.

I have heard on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions from se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials of both coun­tries that they are work­ing hard to im­ple­ment or re­flect the Sun­ny­lands spirit.

One of the most tan­gi­ble signs that progress is be­ing made is the fast grow­ing bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary ex­changes, which for a long time lagged be­hind the co­op­er­a­tion in other ar­eas.

China’s top mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, from De­fenseMin­is­ter ChangWan­quan, Chief of the People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Gen­eral Staff Fang Fenghui and PLA Navy Com­man­der-in­ChiefWu Shengli, have vis­ited the US and toured mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in the past year. US De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck­Hagel and sev­eral top mil­i­tary lead­ers from the US Army, Navy and Air Force have also vis­ited China and toured PLA fa­cil­i­ties.

The two mil­i­taries have con­ducted joint dis­as­ter re­lief and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance ex­er­cises. And China’s de­ci­sion to ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the Rim of the Pa­cific naval ex­er­cise for the first time is re­garded a ma­jor step in build­ing mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary trust.

Such progress af­ter Sun­ny­lands has been heart­en­ing. Yet what has hap­pened in the last few months has been dis­heart­en­ing and has not re­flected the Sun­ny­lands spirit.

There is no doubt that dif­fer­ences, huge dif­fer­ences, ex­ist be­tween China and the US. While the po­ten­tial for co­op­er­a­tion is lim­it­less, their com­pe­ti­tion in the eco­nomic and se­cu­rity are­nas is grow­ing. Es­pe­cially as the two coun­tries are still sus­pi­cious of each other’s strate­gic in­ten­tions, whether in terms of the US’ re­bal­anc­ing to Asia strat­egy or China’s grow­ing eco­nomic and mil­i­tary might.

The on­go­ing ten­sion in the South and East China seas which the US is try­ing to get it­self in­volved in has also com­pli­cated the sit­u­a­tion, so has the row over cy­ber­se­cu­rity, with the two coun­tries trad­ing ac­cu­sa­tions and adopt­ing a tit-for-tat ap­proach fol­low­ing the US Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­dict­ment of five PLA of­fi­cers for cy­ber theft.

While no one should un­der­es­ti­mate the dif­fer­ences be­tween China and theUS, what has been lack­ing is a sec­ond and third Sun­ny­lands sum­mit as many sug­gested a year ago. The most con­se­quen­tial bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in the 21st century de­serves more at­ten­tion from the two lead­ers so they en­gage in sub­stan­tive di­a­logue and more sum­mits like the one at Sun­ny­lands.

The top lead­ers need to re­peat the tone they set at the Sun­ny­lands to re­as­sure ev­ery­one that China and the US are head­ing in the same di­rec­tion, to­ward co­op­er­a­tion and not con­fronta­tion. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant now that the re­la­tion­ship has hit a snag.

The two top lead­ers must con­tinue to show their vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship, just as they did at Sun­ny­lands last June. The au­thor, based in­Wash­ing­ton, is deputy edi­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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