Forty years of evolv­ing Sino-US ties

China Daily (USA) - - COMMENT -

This year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of diplo­matic re­la­tions between the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China and the United States. In the last 40 years, China and the US have be­come so eco­nom­i­cally in­ter­de­pen­dent due to their grow­ing com­mon in­ter­ests that it would be very dif­fi­cult for ei­ther to boost its eco­nomic growth with­out the other.

A re­al­ity check shows the evo­lu­tion of Sino-US re­la­tions has its own laws along with the his­tor­i­cal trends of the times. When the world si­t­u­a­tion or the do­mes­tic si­t­u­a­tion of ei­ther of the coun­tries un­der­goes dra­matic changes, bi­lat­eral ties usu­ally wit­ness pro­found re-ad­just­ments.

Be­fore 1972 when for­mer US pres­i­dent Richard Nixon vis­ited China, the two sides re­mained an­tag­o­nis­tic and had al­most no high-level gov­ern­ment con­tacts or ex­changes, mainly be­cause of the fail­ure of US pol­i­cy­mak­ers to dis­cover their com­mon in­ter­ests.

Fol­low­ing Nixon’s visit to China, the world si­t­u­a­tion and the US-Soviet UnionChina tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tion­ship started chang­ing ex­ten­sively. An­a­lysts gen­er­ally be­lieve that when Nixon pro­posed in the quar­terly mag­a­zine Diplo­matic Af­fairs in Oc­to­ber 1967 to seek con­tact with China, his pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion of fu­ture Si­noUS re­la­tions was closely re­lated to his as­sess­ment of the world si­t­u­a­tion and the role of China in the US’ strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion with the Soviet Union.

In the years that fol­lowed, un­til the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two sides’ com­mon in­ter­ests in re­sist­ing the Soviet Union’s global expansion dom­i­nated their re­la­tions, with the US even help­ing China up­grade its mil­i­tary equip­ment.

How­ever, the end of the Cold War left US po­lit­i­cal lead­ers at a loss for com­mon in­ter­ests. Amer­i­can elites and some pol­i­cy­mak­ers re­laxed or ceased their ef­forts to ex­plore and ex­pand com­mon in­ter­ests, and in­stead planned to change China or made ef­forts to bring about its col­lapse.

The US em­pha­sized old and new dif­fer­ences on such is­sues as Tai­wan, hu­man rights, ide­ol­ogy and trade, and al­lowed Lee Teng-hui, for­mer leader of Tai­wan, to visit Cor­nell Univer­sity in New York in 1995.

There were even fre­quent threats to deny China most-fa­vored-na­tion trade ben­e­fits by link­ing it to its hu­man rights per­for­mance. How­ever, when Sino-US re­la­tions suf­fered se­ri­ous set­backs and the US’ losses out­weighed it gains, the two sides grad­u­ally found many com­mon in­ter­ests in eco­nomic glob­al­iza­tion. With the un­prece­dented expansion of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in var­i­ous ar­eas, it is no sur­prise that con­cepts such as “G2” and “Chimerica” have oc­ca­sion­ally ap­peared.

But in the new cen­tury, some hawk­ish US lead­ers and schol­ars, who view Sino-US re­la­tions with a Cold War men­tal­ity and zero-sum game logic, be­gan to feel un­easy about China’s rapid growth and in­creas­ing na­tional strength. They first mis­judged China as the US’ chief strate­gic com­peti­tor, and now they want to con­tain China so the US can main­tain its pre-em­i­nence across the world. This re­sulted in dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the so-called Thucy­dides Trap between China as a ris­ing power and the US as an es­tab­lished power be­com­ing fash­ion­able.

Some in the US even be­lieve the cur­rent Sino-US trade fric­tions are a pre­lude to a “new cold war” and pos­si­bly to a hot war between the two sides. In re­al­ity, this re­flects the US’ vac­il­la­tion in terms of re­assess­ing its na­tional in­ter­ests, due mainly to its rigid global strat­egy and doubts over China’s strate­gic in­ten­tions.

It would take quite a few years for the two coun­tries to com­plete the process of ob­jec­tively re­defin­ing their max­i­mum na­tional in­ter­ests in the new era of glob­al­iza­tion, free trade and mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, and to work out new prag­matic strate­gies and tac­tics to con­stantly ex­pand their com­mon in­ter­ests.

In the se­cu­rity field, co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion between the two coun­tries help main­tain peace and sta­bil­ity in the world. As such, a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion would be detri­men­tal to global peace. Be­sides, a mil­i­tary con­flict would be ben­e­fi­cial to nei­ther China nor the US, nor the rest of the world.

Hope­fully, de­spite the US re­strict­ing bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion in cer­tain ar­eas, the con­tin­u­ing high-level mil­i­tary lead­ers’ ex­changes and reg­u­lar bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion pro­grams in cer­tain fields will help the two sides to avoid a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion.

On the eco­nomic front, in­tense fric­tions will con­tinue un­til both sides suf­fer heavy losses and their economies face high risks of re­ces­sion. This will com­pel both to ob­jec­tively re-ex­am­ine their re­la­tions, and lead­ers and schol­ars who pre­fer co­op­er­a­tion and co­or­di­na­tion will grad­u­ally pre­vail in the US.

And when the US’ losses be­gin to mul­ti­ply due to the grow­ing sep­a­ra­tion of po­lit­i­cal will from eco­nomic re­al­ity, com­mon in­ter­ests will again be­come the main pil­lar of Sino-US re­la­tions.

It would be dis­as­trous to dis­rupt glob­al­iza­tion, by try­ing to end the in­ter­de­pen­dence of the two economies. For ex­am­ple, iPhones are sold across the world, but Ap­ple has grown as an in­no­va­tive high­tech com­pany largely be­cause it pur­chases iPhone com­po­nents from com­pa­nies in Ja­pan, Ger­many, the Repub­lic of Korea and the US but ships them to China to be as­sem­bled into the iconic end prod­ucts the world is so fa­mil­iar with.

Any change in this global sup­ply chain would have costly, com­plex and far-reach­ing ef­fects, not least be­cause con­sumers want in­ex­pen­sive but high-qual­ity prod­ucts, and cap­i­tal and busi­nesses want to make max­i­mum prof­its. This law can­not be changed on the whim of a few US pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

In the ar­eas of cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, sports, health­care, science and tech­nol­ogy, as well as tourism, bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion and ex­changes have wit­nessed re­mark­able progress in the last 40 years. Still, the two coun­tries have to deepen mu­tual un­der­stand­ing between their peo­ples.

Com­pre­hen­sive com­mon in­ter­ests have mo­ti­vated the two sides to de­velop their re­la­tion­ship. So nei­ther side should stop ex­plor­ing and ex­pand­ing com­mon in­ter­ests, while de­sist­ing from fo­cus­ing only on dif­fer­ences. These are the two im­por­tant points they should keep in mind while ob­serv­ing the 40th an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of Sino-US diplo­matic re­la­tions, in or­der to de­velop brighter bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in the fu­ture. The au­thor is a re­search fel­low at China Foun­da­tion for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. Source: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

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