Promoting Pacific peace

Updated: 2013-04-16 08:03

By Qian Liwei (China Daily)

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Window of opportunity for US and China to reset relations and advance political, economic, military and security ties

The United States' rebalancing to Asia was launched in November 2011 in the post-counterterrorism era, with the US increasingly viewing the Asia-Pacific region as strategically important as it shifted its strategic focus from Afghanistan and Iraq. The rebalancing led to strong anxiety in Europe as well as in Asia. While the Europeans were preoccupied by the partial withdrawal of US troops from Europe and the region's declining importance in the US' grand strategy, Asian countries were more concerned with the negative reaction from China and the reorganization of the regional structure.

Although many US officials, such as Tom Donilon and Kurt Campbell, claimed that the strategy was not aimed at China, there were still many debates among US officials and intellectuals over how to pacify China's doubts and accusations. Kenneth Lieberthal, a seasoned China hand with the Brookings Institution and a former senior director for Asia-Pacific Affairs at the National Security Council, called for a rebalancing of the Obama administration's strategy toward China.

While President Barack Obama's former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's first foreign visit was to Asia, new Secretary of State John Kerry's first trip was to Europe and the Middle East, The reasons are clear: The US and Europe are committed to revitalizing the transatlantic alliance through cooperation on economic, security and political issues, ranging from the Middle East peace process to Iran's nuclear ambitions and from the Syrian crisis to cyber security. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, which are expected to begin soon, are the most recent signal of their rapprochement.

The revival of closer US-Europe cooperation is not only aimed at boosting the US' sluggish economic recovery and preventing another recession in Europe, it is also aimed at addressing the daunting long-term challenges they face, including the growing economic competition from emerging market countries. Furthermore, the US also wants to "pivot to Asia" in conjunction with the Europeans, who are eager to benefit from the economic prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. The US' re-affirmation of the strategic value of Europe and its treatment of Europe as a cooperative partner in its rebalancing to Asia has helped alleviate Europe's worries over the US' strategic shift.

However, it will take time and patience to convince China that it isn't the target of the US' strategic rebalancing. Although the US claims that it hasn't taken sides in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea between China and some of its neighbors and has called for their peaceful resolution, China views the US actions as proving it is biased against it.

For example, a rotational deployment of 2,500 US Marines in Australia was viewed by China as a strengthening of the US' alliance with Japan in the face of the escalating tensions over the Diaoyu Islands, even though it was billed as a sign of closer security cooperation between the US and Australia.

Throughout 2012, the China-US relationship soured not only in the military and security fields. With the excuse they were a potential threat to national security, proposed Chinese investments in the US, by companies such as ZTE, Huawei and Sany, were dismissed by the Obama administration and Congress. Chinese turbine and photovoltaic producers also experienced anti-dumping and countervailing trade relief investigations. Most recently, the so-called Chinese cyber threat has started affecting bilateral trade, with federal agencies forbidden from purchasing high-tech products made by "Chinese government related companies".

Nevertheless, with Obama in a stronger position at home now he has been re-elected for a second term and a new leadership in office in China, the two countries have an opportunity to "reset" their relationship.

Recent communication between President Xi Jinping and Obama sent the message that the door is open for greater engagement and deeper interaction. High-level exchanges are just a warm-up for the upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is likely to be in Washington D.C. in June. It is also widely reported that, for the first time, China has accepted a US invitation to participate in joint military excises in the Asia-Pacific.

With political, economic, military and security links being comprehensively formed and pushed forward, Sino-US relations should advance and result in major achievements. Both sides should understand that only through comprehensive, deeper and sustainable exchanges at all levels, can mutual respect and understanding and trust be reached, peaceful coexistence and co-development be achieved, and a new type of relations between the big powers be built.

The author is Associate Research Fellow with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily 04/16/2013 page8)