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Cooperation can immediately improve China-US relations, ex-diplomat says

By ZHAO HUANXIN in Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-25 06:58

David Adelman, US ambassador to Singapore between 2010 and 2013.

The United States and China could bring almost immediate change to their strained relationship by having "strong and intense cooperation" on core issues during the window of opportunity of the new administration in Washington, a former US ambassador said.

"The first half of this year represents a true opportunity to reset this US-China relationship," said David Adelman, US ambassador to Singapore between 2010 and 2013.

"There are certainly areas of mutual interest that are global issues that can only be successfully addressed with strong and intense cooperation between Washington and Beijing," Adelman, who is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said at a webinar.

The core areas include climate change, the public health crisis, counterterrorism and anti-piracy issues, on which their cooperation should not be controversial, he said at a discussion, The Evolution of China-US Relations in 2021, held on Thursday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

"While they are very big and difficult issues, they represent areas where there can be almost immediate change in the relationship that all goes hand in hand with a more conciliatory tone, coming from both Beijing and Washington, than we have experienced over the last four years," he said.

Joe Biden, a Democrat, was sworn in as the 46th US president on Wednesday after a tumultuous four years of Republican Donald Trump's presidency.

Biden is tasked with leading the country as it faces what his advisers have described as four compounding crises: the pandemic, the economic downturn, climate change and racial inequality.

The president followed his promise of immediate action with a flurry of executive orders signed on his first day in office.

In his first few hours at the White House, Biden recalled an exchange he had with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a trip to China a decade ago.

"When I was with Xi Jinping-and I was on the Tibetan plateau with him-and he asked me in a private dinner, he and I, and we each had an interpreter, he said, 'Can you define America for me?'" Biden recounted during a swearing-in ceremony for new staff members.

Biden, who was then vice-president in Barack Obama's administration, said he responded to Xi, who was also then vice-president, with one word: "possibilities", CNN reported on Friday.

The report said Biden's relationship with Xi has become "the stuff of near legend", with the two traveling more than 16,000 kilometers together, and they sat for hours of private dinners in China and the US when they were counterparts.

Adelman said a Biden-Xi meeting with an agenda focusing on the potential areas of cooperation would be constructive.

He added that the opportunity to reset US-China relations this year has only a "relatively small window", since the honeymoon of a new president in modern US politics usually doesn't last long.

Before long, the midterm election cycle will set in, and some China hawks who supported Trump-era policies may begin to raise their voices and have a "less constructive" impact on the Biden administration's ability to reset US-China ties, he said.

"There undoubtedly is a place for the use of tariffs with regard to certain products and certain industries, and there's a separate conversation to have around export controls and the protection of intellectual property, but using broad-based tariffs to prosecute all of America's grievances against China has been, in my view, very unsuccessful," Adelman said.

He said he hoped the Biden administration will take a "fresh and sophisticated" view of the way tariffs are used.

"I hope that will be interpreted in Beijing as a move toward some depressurizing-taking some of the pressure out of the US-China trade debate and relationship," Adelman added.

The former ambassador also said the US and China have a stake in each other's economic success, and they are the two locomotives that will lead to global growth.

"For purposes of global growth, the United States needs China and China needs the United States, and that's a pretty good starting point to try to rebuild trust and rebuild a successful economic relationship," he said.

Also during the webinar, James B.Steinberg, a professor of social sciences, international affairs and law at Syracuse University, said he agreed that there are opportunities for cooperation, but if the deep diagnosis is that China is challenging the US, it would be very hard to sustain and insulate areas of cooperation from the deeper conflict.

"I think we have got to find a way to deal with these deeper challenges, and to come to some understanding about whether we really do have a way,… can we coexist in a way that is not threatening to each other, and can we convince each other that we're serious about that," he said.

Steinberg suggested that the two countries begin to improve their relations by rolling back the restrictions imposed on each other for visits, especially by journalists and academics.

Zhang Weiwei, director of Fudan University's China Institute and a professor of international relations, said China and the US are at a crossroads in their relationship, with some people stirring up a new Cold War.

"We're in a really interesting time. We have every reason to seek what I call mutually assured prosperity, rather than mutually assured destruction," Zhang said.

He added that there is "ample ground" for cooperation between the two sides in dealing with most of the main challenges facing the US-the pandemic, economic recovery and climate change.

"China is in a unique position to help the US, unless you reject that," he said.

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