Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Balancing trust deficits

By Ma Zhengang (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-29 08:02

China and the US need to make greater efforts to establish mutual understanding and expand exchange channels

Four decades ago, the first visit by former US president Richard Nixon to China resulted in the momentous "handshake across the vast Pacific Ocean". During the visit, the two sides issued the world-famous Shanghai Communiqu, which opened the door to the normalization of Sino-US relations.

Seven years later, on Jan 1, 1979, the issuance of the Joint Communiqu on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations formally announced the commencement of normal relations between China and the United States. Then after hard negotiations on the issue of US arms sale to Taiwan of China, both sides agreed their third and final communiqu, known as the Aug 17 Communiqu.

These three joint communiqus are the fundamental principles guiding Sino-US relations and constitute the basis for the development of bilateral relations. Experience has shown that when the three communiqus are followed, Sino-US relations flourish; when violated, bilateral relations suffer setbacks.

Over the past 40 years, especially the 33 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations, Sino-US relations have advanced by leaps and bounds, producing many achievements in terms of bilateral exchanges and cooperation.

Take bilateral trade for example. The bilateral trade volume soared from $2.37 billion in 1979 to $446.7 billion in 2011. Both the US and China are now each other's second largest trading partner.

More than 60 dialogue and consultation mechanisms have been established and there are now Sino-US ties in fields ranging from trade, science and technology, security, the military and judiciary to environmental protection, education and culture.

The US is the world's largest developed country and largest economy, and China is the largest developing country and the world's second largest economy. The combined GDP of the two countries accounts for about one-third of world's total.

Therefore, the relationship between the two has gone far beyond the bilateral domain, which has significant ramifications for the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.

Nonetheless, the development of Sino-US relations is mainly built on the mutual needs arising from their respective strategic interests. In other words, strategic factors are fundamental to Sino-US relations.

The evolution of the global landscape since the late 1960s exposed China and the US to the same strategic security threat, and common, similar and parallel strategic interests promoted the normalization and advancement of Sino-US relations.

After the end of the Cold War, however, the US, as the world's sole superpower, misjudged China's strategic value and influence and it began to pursue a tough policy toward China that led to bilateral relations deteriorating.

Yet the US gradually came to realize the strategic significance of bilateral relations, and Sino-US relations began to improve.

After the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the US adjusted its global strategic objectives and began to count more on China's support. Washington strengthened its strategic cooperation with China, resulting in relatively steady bilateral relations. Since then the bilateral cooperation in various fields has expanded and deepened.

Since President Barack Obama took office, the two sides have committed to building a positive, comprehensive and cooperative relationship. And in early 2011, the two heads of state reached the important consensus to promote the building of a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Experience has proved that bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas has significant strategic and practical benefits for both sides. Addressing the many serious challenges facing the world today requires international collaboration. In this regard, China and the US should fulfill their obligations and work together to play a positive and powerful role.

For in an era of multi-polarization and globalization, it is acknowledged that cooperation benefits both China and the US and even if the two sides cannot be "friends", neither should they become "adversaries". The strategic positioning between China and the US concerns the fundamental interests of both as well as world peace and stability.

Needless to say, however, Sino-US strategic mutual trust still faces serious challenges, and there is a big trust deficit between the two countries, mainly due to the Cold War mentality and hegemonic thinking that obsesses some Americans.

Over the past 10 years, after two wars in the Middle East and a grave economic and financial crisis, the overall national strength of the US is in relative decline. While during the same period, China's strength is rising continuously. The narrowing gap between the two countries has made some Americans nervous. Thinking that China will challenge the US superiority in the world, they promote the "China threat" fallacy and the myth that "the US will be squeezed out of the Asia Pacific".

To establish strategic mutual trust is vital for both sides, but there is still a long way to go, which needs greater efforts from both sides. Both countries should remain rational while judging the other's strategic intentions.

The US should fully understand China's peaceful development path, and refrain from misinterpreting China's moves, and the two sides should respect each other's core interests and major concerns. They should also strengthen bilateral cultural and people-to-people exchanges so as to give Sino-US relations a popular foundation.

If both sides commit to making joint efforts, China and the US can pioneer a path of harmonious coexistence, healthy competition and win-win cooperation among big powers. This is in accordance with the wishes of the majority of Chinese and American peoples, and also the ardent desire of most people in the world.

The author is former president of China Institute of International Studies.

(China Daily 02/29/2012 page8)

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