Sino-US ties in multipolar era

By Dan Steinbock (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-21 08:10
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In the past, the ties between the United States and China were governed by the constraints of the Cold War. But the Cold War ended two decades ago. Now, it is time to adjust Sino-US relations to the multipolar era.

During his four-day state visit to the US, President Hu Jintao has called for enhanced cooperation with the US in energy, infrastructure development, aviation and space.

At the start of President Hu's visit, the US and China agreed on US export deals worth $45 billion. Even before the visit, Chinese and US businesses had signed agreements worth $600 million in Texas.

These are good developments, but the basic framework of US policy toward China was created during the peak of the Cold War. Today, these basics should be reassessed in the light of China's next stage of growth and structural shifts in the global economy. Among other things, that should mean broadening and deepening of Sino-US ties in trade and investment.

China is the US' second-largest trading partner, third-largest export market and biggest source of imports. In recent years, US-China economic relations have been strained over a number of issues, including the US' annual trade deficits with China.

But the US enjoys a trade surplus in service exports, and 50 to 60 percent of "Chinese exports" are actually trade by foreign multinationals, including US companies, operating in China.

Efforts to deepen bilateral clean energy cooperation, however, are promising. In 2008, China and the US signed a framework on a 10-year cooperation on energy and the environment. President Hu and US President Barack Obama have now highlighted the importance of China-US cooperation in these areas.

Less than 10 percent of China's high-tech imports in terms of value are from the US. If Washington were to relax its export controls on high-tech products, Beijing would gain know-how for productivity, while Washington would gain capital for employment.

In early 2009, the Obama administration announced that it aimed to double US exports in five years to facilitate economic recovery. The success of this export strategy is predicated on sustained globalization, open borders and avoiding protectionism.

In 2005, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) made a bid to acquire US energy company Unocal for $18.5 billion, but its efforts met with resistance. But times may be changing. Late last year, CNOOC succeeded in getting a stake in a US shale oil and gas field for $1.1 billion.

The bulk of Chinese investment in the US has flown into advanced manufacturing, while some companies have started making forays into the service sector - as exemplified by the acquisitions of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group last year.

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