Looking Ahead: A New Chapter in the Partnership Between China and the United States

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 09:47
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 At the invitation of US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao conducted a state visit to the United States of America from January 18 to 21, 2011. The visit, which marked the beginning of Sino-US relations in the second decade of the 21st century, attracted a high level of attention not only in China and the US, but also around the entire world. During the visit, the leaders of both nations candidly exchanged their opinions on key issues of strategic interest, such as the future of Sino-US relations, and found common ground on a number of issues. Before the entire world, the leaders of both nations declared that China and the US are committed to developing a partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. This was followed by the issuing of the China-US Joint Statement, which further defined the partnership between the two nations. This new orientation has paved the way for the development of Sino-US relations in the period ahead, and has shown the world that China and the US are committed to working together for the future.  


 May 21, 2011, the Military Band of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the US Army Band “Pershing’s Own” perform a joint concert at the Lincoln Center in New York City. /Photo by Xinhua reporter Wu Jingdan

 Addressing opportunities and challenges in the 21st century together

 The China-US Joint Statement, which was issued during President Hu Jintao’s visit, asserted that “the two nations will actively cooperate in a wide range of security, economic, social, energy, and environmental issues” under a strategy of “addressing opportunities and challenges in the 21st century together.” The broad international scope that these initiatives cover gives a clear indication of the significance that partnership between China and the US embodies. 

 As the trend of economic globalization continues, interdependence between different nations will deepen, and the world will increasingly become an integrated whole with a common destiny. When the international financial crisis ravaged the globe and posed a serious threat to the foundations of the world economy, both China and the US did their part to mitigate the impact of the crisis and get the world economy back on track by introducing crucial economic stimulus packages. In addition, the two nations also work together closely with other nations to enhance the regulation of the world economy and promote the reform of the international finance system under the framework of the G-20. In the fight to combat climate change, China and the US are promoting initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and conserving energy, and are also seeking effective collaboration in an effort to boost the development of clean energy industry. In order to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their related technologies, China and the US have worked together for more effective anti-proliferation mechanisms, played an active role in the success of the Nuclear Security Summit and the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and called for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty to come into force at the soonest possible juncture. Moreover, both countries have asserted their commitment to the ultimate goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. China and the US are also dedicated to pragmatic collaboration and the establishment of long-term cooperative mechanisms in a joint effort to combat the development of non-traditional threats, such as terrorism, transnational crime, infectious diseases, and natural disasters.   

 In the Joint Statement, the leaders of both countries clearly expressed that “China and the US will work together for a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region for the 21st century.” China and the US have more joint interests in the Asia-Pacific region than in any other region, and for this reason, collaboration between the two nations is crucial for the region’s stability and prosperity. Maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region is in the common interests of both China and the US. Both countries are committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and oppose any activities in violation of the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks of September 19 and related international obligations. Based on this commitment, both sides have engaged in constant efforts to bring the promises made in the September 19 statement to fruition. Although there have been setbacks in the campaign for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula since last year, both China and the US support necessary steps to reinitiate the Six-Party Talks at the earliest possible time. 

 Establishing a framework for comprehensive economic cooperation 

 During President Hu Jintao’s visit, the leaders of both countries emphasized that the establishment of an economic partnership between China and the US on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit is not only hugely important for the economies of China and the US, but is also crucial for the world economy as a whole. In the Joint Statement, the two countries state a commitment to “establishing a framework for comprehensive economic cooperation” and “developing a comprehensive and mutually-beneficial economic partnership.” 

 Both China and the US are aware that economic ties between the two nations are closer now than they have ever been. According to figures issued by the Chinese government, the trade volume between China and the US has increased by more than 150-fold since the two nations established diplomatic relations, surging from barely 2.5 billion dollars in 1979 to 385.3 billion dollars in 2010. This total makes China the second largest trading partner of the US, and the US the second largest trading partner of China. In addition, China has been the fastest growing major export market of the US for 9 consecutive years. According to figures from the US, exports from the US to China grew by 23.2% in 2010, significantly higher than the 20.6% average growth rate of US exports for that year. In addition, China is a top-5 export destination for 40 of the 50 US states. China and the US are also becoming increasingly open to mutual investment. In the 10 years that have passed since China’s entry into the WTO, all 100 of the service sectors that China promised to open up to foreign investment have been invested in by US companies. By the end of 2010, the US had a total of over 59,000 investment projects in China, representing an actual investment of USD 65.223 billion. At the same time, investment in the US by Chinese companies has also been on the increase. By the end of November, 2010, Chinese companies had invested more than USD 4.4 billion in the US (non-financial direct investment), with the number of Chinese-funded companies operating in the US totaling at 1,300. 

 President Hu Jintao’s visit provided a wider platform for economic ties between the two countries. During the visit, the two governments signed more than 10 deals, memorandums and letters of intent, while a number of agreements covering science and technology, culture, energy, the environment, and intelligent power grids were concluded between Chinese and US companies. These achievements, which will serve to boost economic growth and improve living standards in both nations, are a clear sign that collaboration between China and the US is becoming broader, deeper and more advanced. 

 Committing to partnership and abandoning the “zero-sum” mentality

 As the largest developing and developed countries in the world, China and the US used the Joint Statement to declare their commitment to partnership before the entire world. The Statement reads: “China and the United States have set an example of positive and cooperative relations between countries, despite different political systems, historical and cultural backgrounds, and levels of economic development.” This declaration refutes the notion that rising powers are predestined to dominate.

 China’s rapid economic development in the 30 years since the beginning of the opening up and reform drive has allowed it to significantly close the gap with developed Western countries. However, this has also given rise to suspicions within the international community as to whether China will be able to develop peacefully. Citing the rise and fall of great powers, a theory characteristic of the colonial age, some people subscribe to the belief that the rise of emerging countries will inevitably pose a challenge to the existing world order, and have questioned China’s commitment to developing peacefully. This kind of opinion demonstrates that there are people in the international community who do not fully understand China. China may have captivated the world with its incredible achievements, but the fact remains that it is still a developing country. Despite ranking as the world’s second largest economy by GDP in 2010, China’s economy is still less than half the size of the US economy. Moreover, its GDP per capita is still outside of the top 100, and the number of people living in poverty remains high. Thus, we can see that the developmental gap between China and developed nations remains large, and that China is still a long way from attaining its developmental goals. Economic globalization and international free-trade are important prerequisites for the growth of China’s economy. This means that China needs a peaceful and stable international environment to underpin its development. Therefore, with a firm commitment to developing peacefully, China will not only continue to base its development on world peace, but will also seek to maintain and promote world peace through its own development.

 Relations between China and the US in the 21st century are not about who wins and who loses, nor are they about who rises and who falls. In a joint written interview with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post on the eve of his visit to the United States, President Hu Jintao stated that China and the US must abandon the “zero-sum” Cold War mentality. Prior to Hu Jintao’s visit, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also stated that it does not make sense to apply the zero-sum 19th century theories of how major powers interact to the relationship between the United States and China today. By committing themselves to partnership, China and the US have shown that they will approach their relations with a progressive mindset. In establishing this new approach, the two will define how major powers can engage in positive interactions in the age of globalization.  

 A pragmatic approach to “vital and complex” bilateral relations

 The Joint Statement says that “the relationship between China and the United States is both vital and complex.” With their different histories, cultures, social systems, levels of development and political and economic realities, it is only normal for a certain degree of friction and division to exist between China and the United States. What China and the US should do is to address these divisions head-on, exchange opinions candidly, strive to minimize differences, and seek to solve problems. 

 In the Joint Statement, the two nations reiterated that they will deepen dialogue, expand practical cooperation, and work together to “address areas of disagreement, expand common ground, and strengthen coordination on a range of issues.” Despite acknowledging differences in regard to the issue of human rights, the two sides stressed that efforts should be made to promote and protect human rights consistent with international instruments, deepen dialogue on human rights, and strengthen cooperation in the field of law and exchanges on the rule of law. The two sides agreed that communications and talks between the two countries in regard to international trade should be strengthened. In order to promote balanced trade, China will make increased efforts to boost domestic demand and promote private investment in the service sector; continue to promote RMB exchange rate reform and enhance RMB exchange rate flexibility; and take more far- reaching steps to promote the transformation of the pattern of economic development. The United States will focus on reducing its medium-term federal deficit and ensuring long-term fiscal sustainability, and will maintain vigilance against excess volatility in exchange rates. The US also promised to consult through the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in a cooperative manner to work towards China's market economy status in an expeditious manner, and will promote the reform of the US export control system.

 Both leaders expressed that a healthy, stable and reliable military-to-military relationship between China and the US will be promoted. The Joint Statement affirms that “a healthy, stable and reliable military-to-military relationship is an essential part of President Hu's and President Obama's shared vision of a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive China-US relationship.” Both sides reaffirmed that the Defense Consultative Talks, the Defense Policy Coordination Talks, and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement will remain important channels of communication in the future. The two also agreed on the need for enhanced and substantive dialogue and communication at all levels in order to reduce misunderstanding, misperception, and miscalculation, foster greater understanding, and expand mutual interest.

 The Three Joint Communiqués remain the political foundation of Sino-US relations

 In the Joint Statement, the two sides reaffirmed that “the three Joint Communiqués issued by China and the United States laid the political foundation for the relationship between the two countries, and will continue to guide the development of China-US relations.”

 The Three Joint Communiqués represent the product of joint efforts between the leaders of China and the US and people of vision on both sides over a period of many years. The past 30 years have demonstrated that as long as both sides maintain their commitment to the principles set forth in the Three Joint Communiqués, particularly to the principles of respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not interfering in each other’s internal affairs, the outcome will certainly be the steady development of relations between China and the US. On the contrary, if these principles are not observed, the result will be an endless stream of obstacles and even tension in relations between China and the US. Any action in violation of the Three Joint Communiqués would not only run contrary to the fundamental interests of the Chinese and American people, but would also undermine the common will for friendship and collaboration shared between the peoples of both countries. 

 China and the US should seek to address highly sensitive issues in the spirit of “mutual respect and equality.” Taiwan and Tibet are matters of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They represent China’s core interests, and have a major bearing on the sentiments of the 1.3 billion Chinese people. China hopes that the US will remain faithful to its commitments and work with China in safeguarding the hard-earned progress of Sino-US relations. Facing the possibility of new and complicated developments under the backdrop of a new phase and a new situation, China firmly opposes any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs under any pretext, such as the issue of Internet freedom. So long as China and the US are able to strengthen consultation and seek new ways of resolving problems under the framework of the Three Joint Communiqués, we are confident that Sino-US relations will continue to develop in a healthy and steady manner. 

 During his address at a welcome luncheon hosted by friendly organizations in the United States, President Hu Jintao stated that “looking ahead, we are fully confident about the future prospects of relations between China and the US.” In choosing to pursue partnership, the leaders of both China and the US have demonstrated their international perspective, political foresight and spirit of pragmatic collaboration. The development of Sino-US relations is in the best interests of both the Chinese and the American people. China and the US should approach their relationship in a way that is accountable to both the past and the future, and should prevent it from being affected or held back by any individual incident at any particular time. Although there will be various difficulties on the road ahead, as long as we maintain our foresight and our clarity, continue to view the development of our relationship from a long-term strategic perspective, and remain committed to partnership on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit, the collaboration between China and the US is certain to become steadier, healthier and more embracing. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 6, 2011)

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