A new equilib­rium in Sino-US ties emerg­ing

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

The China-US re­la­tion­ship on the whole has been sta­ble dur­ing the eight years of Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency, even achiev­ing some ma­jor break­throughs— on cli­mate change for in­stance. How­ever, strate­gic mu­tual sus­pi­cion has in­creased and bi­lat­eral ties have en­coun­tered huge dif­fi­cul­ties on many oc­ca­sions.

Although the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary con­flict be­tween China and theUnited States is slim, whether the China-US re­la­tion­ship will fo­cus on strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion with only min­i­mal es­sen­tial co­op­er­a­tion, like the one be­tweenWash­ing­ton and Moscow af­ter the Ukraine cri­sis, has be­come a the­o­ret­i­cal but se­ri­ous ques­tion.

The rapid rise of China has prompted theUS to be­lieve that China will chal­lenge its hege­mony while Beijing is wor­ried that Wash­ing­ton will go out of its way to dis­rupt or pre­vent China’s rise. The re­la­tion­ship seems to have en­tered a dim “strate­gic tun­nel”, in which both have to feel their way and col­lide from time to time.

How­ever, there are also signs of an emerg­ing new­strate­gic equilib­rium. De­spite their dif­fer­ences, the two coun­tries have not come close to a di­rect con­fronta­tion. And although none of the key prob­lems— such as theUS arms sales to Tai­wan, the South China Sea is­sue and cy­ber se­cu­rity— has been fun­da­men­tally re­solved, some have grad­u­ally sta­bi­lized or cooled down.

There are some rea­sons for this emerg­ing strate­gic equilib­rium.

First, lead­ers of both coun­tries are aware that the stakes of China-US re­la­tions are so high that nei­ther side, nor the rest of the world, could af­ford a full es­trange­ment. As such, when­ever the re­la­tion­ship seemed to have reached a “cliff”, lead­ers have shown a strong de­sire to put it back on track. Sev­eral times in the past fewyears, both gov­ern­ments have sig­naled at crit­i­cal mo­ments that no mat­ter what is be­ing dis­puted that mea­sures must be taken to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion.

Sec­ond, lead­ers of the two coun­tries have estab­lished fairly sta­ble high-level ex­change mech­a­nisms. The num­ber of meet­ings be­tween Obama and two Chi­nese heads of state has been record high. Xi Jin­ping and Obama have had a series of long, in­for­mal and in-depth meet­ings to de­velop in­ter­per­sonal trust.

The an­nual Strate­gic and Eco­nomic Di­a­logue andHigh-Level Con­sul­ta­tion on Peo­ple-to-Peo­ple and Cul­tural Ex­changes play an im­por­tant role in pro­mot­ing in­ter­a­gency co­or­di­na­tion and ad­vanc­ing bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the bu­reau­cra­cies of the two coun­tries. In­deed, the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance and ef­fi­ciency of these di­a­logues have to be im­proved.

Third, China and theUS have main­tained strong co­op­er­a­tion in ma­jor global is­sues. The agree­ment on cli­mate change is re­garded as the high­light of their re­la­tion­ship over the past few years. Sim­i­lar co­op­er­a­tion has been seen in prod­uct cov­er­age ex­pan­sion un­der the­World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Agree­ment, the Ira­nian nu­clear is­sue and the re­sponse to Ebola out­breaks in­West Africa. On the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Korea nu­clear is­sue, the two coun­tries have acute dif­fer­ences over the de­ploy­ment of theUS’ Ter­mi­nalHigh Al­ti­tude

Area De­fense anti-mis­sile sys­tem in the Re­pub­lic of Korea, but it has not changed their shared po­si­tion against the DPRK car­ry­ing out nu­clear tests.

That bi­lat­eral dis­agree­ments on some is­sues have not se­ri­ously af­fected their co­op­er­a­tion on ma­jor global and re­gional is­sues testifies to the in­creas­ing ma­tu­rity of their re­la­tion­ship.

And the steadily grow­ing mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tions be­tween theUS and China will help them avoid con­flicts and con­fronta­tions. Given their notso-friendly mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tions in the past, it is grat­i­fy­ing to see them im­prove over the past more than four years.

Some dis­agree­ments on mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary ex­changes do re­main, but po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers have in­creased con­tacts and con­tinue their joint ef­forts to man­age and con­trol crises, and build con­fi­dence. For ex­am­ple, de­spite their dis­agree­ments over the South China Sea is­sue, the two coun­tries’ navies have been en­gag­ing each other in a pro­fes­sional man­ner.

No mat­ter who is elected to the WhiteHouse, so long as the new US pres­i­dent sees this sil­ver lin­ing, bi­lat­eral ties will con­tinue to be sta­ble for the next four years. If not, Wash­ing­ton could shat­ter the frag­ile newe­qui­lib­rium and push the China-US re­la­tion­ship to­ward con­fronta­tion. The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can Stud­ies at the China In­sti­tutes of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. Cour­tesy: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

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