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What should China and US rethink before President Xi’s state visit?

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

08-28-2015 13:54 BJT

By Liu Chang, PhD, China Foreign Affairs University

President Barack Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice visits Beijing August 28-29 as the final step toward preparation for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States late September. Given the situation of China-US relations, some observers expect Rice during her visit to discuss cyber-security, the Renminbi exchange rate and the issue of South China Sea with her Chinese counterparts so as to pave the way for a smoother visit by Xi.

As we all know, both sides – Beijing and Washington – have worked hard on President Xi’s visit and made many meticulous and careful preparations since President Obama officially invited Xi in February. We therefore have sound reasons to believe that this visit, through the joint efforts of the two sides, will yield positive results and move China-US relations forward.

In recent months, it seems doubts and misgivings have been gathering in the skies of Beijing and Washington that some kind of tipping point has been reached in this bilateral relationship. David Lampton, one of the pioneering American scholars in the study of China-US relations, warned of this in his latest public speech. Some US scholars from influential think tanks such as Robert D Blackwill of the Council on Foreign Relations and Ashley J Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace even call for Washington to revise its grand strategy from accommodating to counterbalancing China, a call that many Chinese analysts interpret as containment.

Some negative developments in China-US relations seem to support these observations with evidence as both sides attack each other’s position on issues of cyber-security, human rights, exchange rates and the South China Sea. Seen from this perspective, there is still much work to be done before Xi’s visit.

Generally speaking, three central problems should be made clear to the policy elites and publics in both capitals so that we can figure out new solutions for enhancing mutual trust and removing misgivings in China-US relations.

First of all, is a tipping point really upon us? What worries Lampton is “the gradual migration of the center of gravity of elite and popular discussion in both nations toward more extreme analyses and policy recommendations that simply feed one another. Past policy has not collapsed, but it is weakening.” Yet the fundamentals of China-US relations – mutual cooperation and compromise – have not altered so dramatically that the US needs to overhaul its basic policy of engagement toward China. And it would be unwise for Washington to do so.

At the bilateral level, China and the US have forged a complex community of interests over the last 35 years. These common interests are much more than their mutual disputes, and both need each other even on issues about which they stand firmly opposed. At the regional and global level, policymakers in Washington including Rice who come to Beijing should bear in mind that many a global security, economic and governance problem cannot be resolved without Beijing’s help. China has no “strategic purpose” and harbors no intention of supplanting the US’ leading regional and global role. Thus there is no such tipping point for these two powers, and it would be irresponsible for Washington to adopt a counterbalancing or whatever grand strategy.

Second, who is embarking on a new order? It is frustrating to see Blackwill and Tellis depict in their report that “because the American effort to ‘integrate’ China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to US primacy in Asia – and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally – Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.”
 
Increasingly it seems that US analysts, particularly in Washington, fret that China wants to overthrow the existing international political and economic order based on American primacy and try to establish a brand new one in China’s favor. Thus the very foundation of US policy toward China in past decades – accommodation and integration – is now allegedly being eroded by China’s revisionist behavior. They regard China’s proactive behavior in initiating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Belt and Road Initiatives, demanding special drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund and seeking reforms of major international economic and financial institutions as China setting up a new order absent of the US.

On the contrary, the reality is that the US is the one seeking to change the status quo of the global economic and political structure as it intends to alter the global, or at least regional, trading system based on World Trade Organization rules by pushing forward negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Thus the more likely scenario would be that China struggles hard and tries its best to integrate with the international system only to find that system completely changed by the existing rule makers of which the United States enjoys the dominant role. Thus it is irresponsible and unconstructive to blame China for being revisionist in the international system. Voices that speak for a revision of US strategy toward China should calm down and focus instead on building a constructive bilateral relationship between Beijing and Washington.

Third and finally, why have those in the US who were once so China-friendly and optimistic about US- China relations now decide to turn their backs on China? Many explanations rooted in domestic US politics and foreign policy can be found to answer this question, but one key factor should be kept in mind: Uncle Sam seems to increasingly lack confidence in the face of a rising and proactive China. This confidence problem seems to stem largely from a prophecy that China will supplant US primacy and expel the superpower from Asia.

But this is patently not true. The real problem here is that while US confidence may be ebbing, it remains the most powerful country in the world, and it is very dangerous for China to work with a superpower lacking in confidence particularly in its approach toward China. It is also quite dangerous for the US itself to harbor such fears when it is reviewing and formulating strategy toward China. In arranging new rules and standards, China is simply unwilling and unable to terminate US leadership in the Asia-Pacific and the world. As President Xi is to visit the US, worriers in Washington or anywhere else for that matter should be reassured by his practical actions.

To be sure, we expect Rice to engage in constructive dialogue and discussions with the Chinese side and make good use of favorable conditions to prepare as well as possible for Xi’s visit.

While there is lots of exchange work to be done, we hope that statesmen from both sides might spend some time working out strategic issues. The core problem of future China-US relations is that we need new rules for new players and a new system. Old experiences and thinking patterns based on power politics, the balance of power and geopolitics are not enough to resolve new global problems. International relations have a new reality based on internet thinking, emergent new communication technologies and a revolution in new energy resources. The old ways of thinking about the rise of a great power do not apply to China.

Both China and the US should think about placing new and substantial content into the framework for a new type of major-nation relationship, with the core concern being to forge a mechanism for a rules-and-regulations-oriented power stemming from mutual trust, mutual respect, shared interests and rules, norms and regulations agreed upon by both sides. Only by taking responsibilities together and equally shaping each other’s policy preferences and behaviors can these two sides guide the development of this bilateral relationship toward a healthy and sustainable direction beneficial to both.

 

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

 

 

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

 

 

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