The Only Way to Tackle Sino-U.S flashpoints : Enhancing Communication

By Huo Jianguo

On November 7 in Beijing, Digital Media Center (DMC) of China International Publishing Group (CIPG) hosted a seminar: “a New Era – a New Direction of China-U.S. Relations”. A number of senior experts and academics in Sino-U.S. diplomacy and economic and trade relations attended the seminar, and held in-depth discussions on several issues regarding the current relationship and future prospects for the two countries after the two leaders’ meeting, focusing on “What is the impact on Sino-U.S. relations, and how will it influence the situation in the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world?”

Huo Jianguo, vice-president of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, delivered a keynote speech at the seminar and exchanged views with other experts on issues including Sino-U.S. diplomacy, trade and development.

 

Even though Sino-U.S. relations have seen highs and lows and experienced successes and setbacks, and changes in government have tended to generate new flashpoints and conflicts, the ultimate trend in the relationship has always been towards cooperation.

 

We should look at Sino-U.S. relations since Trump took office from a broad perspective .

The whole situation has been thrown into turmoil since Trump came to power. Every feature of past and present Sino-U.S relations has been called into question, and all developments, past and present, and possibly future, are on the table. Hence a lot of people have doubts about the future of Sino-U.S relations, fearing instability and even protracted confrontation between the two countries, which could evolve into more serious conflicts.

However, others still see prospects of a brighter future, thinking that both countries are still working towards a new model of relations between major countries. The attitude of Trump’s government has evolved from adopting a rather confrontational stance towards China when he first assumed power, to the current willingness to engage in dialogue. This gives the optimists some grounds for their stance. The US places a high value on the role China plays in the international community.

Whole Spectrum Cooperation Taking Shape

Sino-U.S relations are a vital cog in the wheel of the major countrirs relationship dynamic. Now they have reached a new stage – the focus is no longer only on existing cooperation including trade and investment; it has expanded into a much wider range, which itself has brought increasing complexity.

In the past, what the two parties cared most about were trade and investment, open markets, and regulatory equivalence. Sino-U.S. relations are now embracing elements from all social sectors; they now involve cooperation in an increasing number of fields. Exchanges in culture, education, tourism, the military and think tanks are deeper, broader and richer. Both parties have their own expectations in cooperation concerning major international affairs, but for the time being the U.S. is asking more from China than the converse.

Closer Relationship Between the Heads of State Expected

U.S. has realized that it no longer has the capacity to regain dominance or have the final say on some major global issues, and that it needs the help and collaboration of other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. This applies in particular to the North Korea nuclear issue. From this perspective, it is a good sign that the US is recognizing the new trend in power relationships, and coming round to the idea of settling existing problems on the basis of mutual respect rather than conflict and confrontation.

This visit to China is the third meeting between the two heads, and we are expecting a closer personal relationship can be built so as to improve the understanding of both parties. With a better level of understanding, a lot of goals can be achieved through communication.

The Core problem between China and the U.S. is the Lack of Mutual Trust

U.S. sees China’s development and progress as a challenge to its power both in economic and in military terms. This kind of mistrust has a severe impact on the decision-making of both parties, and it will not lead to any good.

Hence , as far as I am concerned, the true barrier between the two countries is lack of communication, especially genuine, penetrating, and multifaceted communication. This problem needs to be remedied from national leaders, through the heads of all ministries and commissions, and into the departments they serve, so that a deeper understanding and broader consensus can be reached. This is no easy matter.

It is Impossible to Reach Total Equivalence in Trade

There are still several problems between China and U.S. waiting to be resolved, one of which is the trade imbalance.

The U.S. insists that China’s widening surplus in trade with the U.S. is caused by China’s unequal trade measures rather than its own economic structure. It will take more than a project or two or a simple plan to resolve this problem.

Many issues in trade should be treated individually to cater for the fact that there are still varying levels of development around the world. Using the same approach as was used in setting climate change protocols, dealing with each case on its merits is a vital principle in international negotiation. It is therefore naive to expect total equivalence. China is still a developing country, and it is still a considerable distance away from catching up with developed countries.

Deeper Communication and New Cooperation

In addition to economic and trade issues, the two countries still face other problems, including issues in northeast Asia, and the South China Sea. In my personal view, for all that trade issues between China and the U.S. are heated, they are only surface problems.

The deeper issue beneath the surface is political, social, and cultural differences, and a gap in values. This is not a matter that can be resolved by one side “conquering” the other or bringing the other round to its way of thinking; it is a question of time. China will need a better understanding of American values to seek out common ground between the two parties.

If we are to resolve the core problems between the two sides we need first to enhance communication, and both parties have a role to play in this process.

This does not go in any way against our stance on major principles.

Moreover, we need to seek new opportunities for cooperation, especially in international affairs. New challenges are constantly cropping up in global governance, and this calls for Sino – U.S. cooperation too. The essence of good global governance is the relationship between major powers; if they cannot work with each other, it will be hard to make progress.

 

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China Matters

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