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Zhou Wenzhong: five major early-stage gains of China-US relations

Time:2015-06-09 16:10:35    Views:912460    Origin:Boao Forum for Asia

Since 2013, China and the US have made a series of active progress in building new relations between great powers.

Interaction between leaders innovated

First, leaders of the two countries are engaged in innovated interaction and constructive dialogs.

On June 2013, the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Obama at Sunnylands initiated a new mode of interaction between Chinese and US state leaders. The meeting skipped past forms and procedures for state or work visit. The two state leaders held eight-hour face to face dialogs and exchange, which covered domestic situations in both countries, their experience in governing the country, as well as economic and financial issues, bilateral affairs, and regional and global issues such as North Korea nuclear issue, climate change, and internet safety. The two leaders embraced cooperation and frankly acknowledged their differences. The meeting was unprecedented in the history of China-US relations for its new form, long interaction, extensive topics, and in-depth exchange.

On November 2014, Obama paid a state visit to China after attending the APEC Summit in Beijing. The core event of his visit was a series of meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, including the Yingtai evening talk in Zhongnanhai (walk, small-scale meeting, evening banquet, and tea chat) and official meeting at the Great Hall of the People. The Yingtai evening talk centered on state administration and the official meeting covered bilateral relations and international issues. During their ten-hour interaction in two days, the two state leaders held in-depth dialogs which they both described as “constructive,” “frank,” “sincere,” “in-depth,” and “fruitful.” Obama also said that the Yingtai evening talk “has further deepened my understanding of China’s situation and the administrative concepts of Chinese government and leaders. Now I understand better why Chinese people cherish their national unity and stability.” It is believable that at the closing stage of Obama’s administration when he begins to consider his diplomatic legacy, the successful meeting is conducive to urging him to take a more active gesture in handling US-China relations during the remaining two years of his administration.

From “If you don’t cut, I don’t cut” to “If you cut, I will cut”

Upon their joint efforts, China and the US have achieved many important early-stage gains in bilateral and multilateral fields.

Both sides agree to hold substantive negotiations on bilateral investment treaty based on “national treatment and negative list before admission,” which is a major breakthrough and progress. Their economic and trade cooperation is developing rapidly. Last year, their bilateral trade volume reached 555.1 billion USD and their two-way investment stock exceeded 120.0 billion USD, both hitting record highs.

For a long time, military relations had remained the “short board” in bilateral relations. During their meeting at Sunnylands, the two heads of state agreed to improve and develop the two countries’ military relations. Two years on, China-US military relations have made a series of important progress in communication at top and all other levels, mechanism dialog and negotiation, exchange between middle-aged and young officers, and joint exercise and training. In the summer of 2014, China was for the first time invited to take part in the US-led “Pacific Rim Exercise.” Chinese fleet taking part in this 23-nation joint naval exercise was the second largest next to the US fleet. The exercise was a major breakthrough in the history of military exchange between the two countries. In November, the ministries of defence of China and the US signed the Establishment of Major Military Operation Mutual Notification Mechanism and Code of Conduct for Sea and Air Military Safety in High Sea Areas. These two mutual trust mechanisms play important roles in enhancing strategic mutual trust between China and the US, controlling crises, and preventing risks and are conducive to reducing misjudgement and unexpected accidents between the military forces of the two countries.
With the development of China-US relations and expansion of their exchange, it is a must to improve visa policies and facilitate people-to-people communication.

During last year’s Xi-Obama meeting in Beijing, the two sides agreed to grant each other’s visiting students 5-year multiple entry visa and each other’s visiting businesspersons and tourists 10-year multiple entry visa. This progress is warmly welcomed by all circles of the two countries and it is significant for strengthening China-US cultural exchange. Within merely three months, China issued 54% more visa to US citizens over the same period in the previous year. Last year, the two countries saw 4.30 million person-times of visits by their people.

In multilateral field, China and the US have reached bilateral consensus on expanded negotiation for WTO’s Information Technology Convention, which is conducive to resuming and concluding as soon as possible the multilateral negotiation in Geneva. China and the US have carried out frequent negotiation and coordination on Iranian nuclear issue and promoted the negotiation to make important progress. In Korean peninsula issue, China and the US have kept close contact and maintained the peace and stability in the peninsula and Northeastern Asia. In addition, China and the US have also carried out active coordination and cooperation in Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan affairs, and the fight against Ebola epidemic.

Here, the China-US Joint Declaration on Climate Change released by the two countries is particularly worth mentioning. In December 2015, the 21st COP of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change will be held in Paris. Whether or not an agreement can be reached by then will mean whether or not the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade by the end of this century compared with that before the industrialization started in 1750. China and the US are the two largest carbon emitting countries in the world and their policy stands have a huge impact on the result of the international climate change negotiation. Through their efforts, the two countries published the China-US Joint Declaration on Climate Change during Xi-Obama meeting and made clear their emission reduction targets: the US doubles its average CO2 emission reduction speed after 2020 and tries to cut its CO2 emission in 2025 to 26% to 28% less than its emission in 2005; China agrees to raise the non-fossil energy to primary energy consumption proportion to 20% and accept its CO2 emission in 2030 as the peak value. The two sides agree to jointly promote the international climate change negotiation reach an agreement during 2015 Paris Conference. They also agree to strengthen their practical cooperation in climate change field, including the cooperation in the advanced coal technology, shale gas, nuclear energy, renewable energy, carbon capture, utilization, and storage, HFCs, low-carbon city, and trade of green products. The major measure taken jointly by China and the US to cope with climate change is so significant that it radically changes the global political structure in dealing with climate change. It has a demonstrative effect on other countries for them to further announce their emission reduction plans. It also actively paves the way for 2015 Paris Conference on Climate Change to reach a new agreement. New York Times commented that the past mode of “If you don’t cut, I don’t cut” has been changed into “If you cut, I will cut” under the leadership of China and the US. This displays the huge value of China-US cooperation in promoting global governance.

On this February 11, US President Obama made a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping and invited him to pay a state visit to the US when attending the UN 70th Anniversary activities in this September. President Xi accepted the invitation and both sides agreed to make complete preparations for the success of the visit. The visit will maintain the favorable momentum of the top-level exchanges between the two countries. Through constant and in-depth strategic exchanges and dialogs, the two countries will deepen mutual understanding, reduce mutual suspicion, build consensus for developing their bilateral relations, and enable their bilateral relations to make greater and better progress in specific fields. We believe that the visit will make new important progress in promoting China-US new relations. We look forward to seeing the progress.

The US should view China with a new mindset

Finally, I would like to share with you some ideas about constructing China-US new relations.

Building China-US new relations will be a long tortuous and complicated process full of opportunities as well as challenges. It therefore requires joint efforts by both China and the US. Building new relations between great powers needs the introduction of new international politics concepts. The rise of China is realized against the background of post-cold-war economic globalization, accelerated regional development, and constant deepening of international cooperation. China upholds such concepts as peaceful development and win-win cooperation, purposely draws lessons from the strategic mistakes made by some powers in the history, and sincerely looks forward to taking a new path to power status. The US took the center stage of world arena relying on World War Two, established its power structure in the world through Cold War, and enjoyed unipolar “dividend” during the post-cold-war era. In a new world situation, it should discard its traditional mindset and practice of giving priority to military means, attaching great importance to geopolitical factors, and pursuing superiority. Instead of viewing China’s rise in power and influence with zero-sum thinking, it should adopt a brand-new viewpoint to consider its relations with China, an emerging power with different values and social system. In a word, both China and the US should guide, promote, and constantly lead the building of China-US new relations with advanced concepts, innovative thinking, and vigorous diplomatic initiatives.

To build China-US new relations, both countries have to soundly handle their conflicts and differences and in particular, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns. With its development and the expansion of its national interests, China will as always firmly maintain its sovereignty, safety, and development interests, and will certainly play a bigger constructive role in world and regional affairs. The US should not cling to the Cold War mentality, always fear that China’s move will impair its interests or the interests of its allies or undermine the US-led regional order and the superior status of the US, and try to contain and even suppress China. Under such circumstances, effective control of differences is vital to building China-US new relations. It requires both China and the US to discard zero-sum thinking, avoid confrontation for settling their differences, focus on the overall development of their bilateral relations, and strengthen internal coordination. Soundly handling differences and smoothly developing cooperation are equally important.

Building China-US new relations also requires the thinking and planning from the point of view of overall world strategy. The development of China-US relations is closely related to the evolution of world situation. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the world has been developing towards multipolarity and economic globalization. There are increasing demands for global governance, which also faces increasing challenges. China-US relations have periodic features and stage-by-stage characteristics. To deal with a constantly-changing US in the rapidly changing international situation, we must closely track and analyze the situation, make sound strategy and policy design with an open vision and creative thinking, seize the opportunity, face the challenge, and actively promote China-US relations towards long-term healthy and stable development.