The ball in America's court

Updated: 2013-01-17 08:14

By Wang Yusheng (China Daily)

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Barack Obama will be sworn in as US president for a second term on Jan 21. Obama's re-election as US president and Xi Jinping's election as China's top leader have intensified global discussions on whether the two countries' ties will improve or deteriorate and whether a new power-to-power relationship will develop between them.

During his visit to the United States in early 2012, Xi had said that China and the US should forge a new type of relationship, which was a goodwill gesture by Beijing to Washington.

Sino-US relations have progressed from one of confrontation to reconciliation and cooperation over the past decades. The US has to act wisely to make its ties with China "a little more comfortable" on the road to deepening mutual interdependence and a new relationship that would suit both countries.

Today's world is different from the imperialist and colonialist era when emerging powers usually posed a challenge to the established powers whose influence was or considered to be on the decline. What usually ensued from such situations were conflict, confrontation and even war.

The main theme of today's world is peace and development, and no emerging country - be it China, India or Brazil - poses a challenge to the US' dominant status in the world. What emerging nations need is "equal treatment" and a more equitable and reasonable international political and economic order.

China is consistent and clear in its emphasis that a harmonious world should be built and that the diversity of civilizations should be respected in the pursuit of common development. As the sole superpower, the US has been found wanting in its contribution to world peace, development and cooperation.

China and the US are now more interdependent on the economic front than ever, something that big powers never enjoyed during the imperialist era.

Over the three-odd decades of normalization of diplomatic ties, Sino-US trade has increased more than 180-fold, to $446.6 billion in 2011. In fact, bilateral trade is expected to exceed $500 billion in 2012. US exports to China has increased 486 percent over the past 10 years and China has become its fastest growing export market. Neither Beijing nor Washington can ignore this booming economic link.

At the end of the 20th century, then US president Bill Clinton recommended that a constructive strategic partnership oriented toward the 21st century be built with China. Clinton's successor George W. Bush did not pursue that policy. Instead, he shifted Sino-US ties to pursue positive cooperation under changed circumstances.

Since assuming power, Obama has defined Sino-US relations as "cooperative partnership based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and win-win results". Leaders of both countries have said a more energetic bilateral relationship is in accordance with the interests of the two sides, the Asia-Pacific region and the world as a whole. For years, China has been complying with this solemn commitment and exercised self-restraint in times of conflicts and frictions with the US. The US, too, has managed to keep its conflicts with China under control by following the same policy.

Though both sides have been cautiously optimistic about building a new type of relationship, they cannot rule out the emergence of difficulties in the future because of the impact of some stereotype ideologies, political and cultural differences, clash of realistic interests and values, and more importantly, Washington's obsession with Cold War mentality and hegemonic strategy.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, security adviser to former US president Jimmy Carter and a celebrated American strategist, has emphasized that constructive mutual interdependence between China and the US was important for global political and economic stability. He said that Sino-US relations should develop into a global partnership like the one the US has with Europe and Japan.

Recently, Brzezinski said Sino-US ties will improve only after both countries made it clear that they will not pursue hegemony and recognize the role the other has played in global affairs.

US leaders have repeatedly said relations between Beijing and Washington will stabilize further - and they could even become true partners - if China abided by international rules and acted as a responsible power. However, successive US administrations have failed to respect the authority of the United Nations Charter drafted by the US' own presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Which one should China abide by, the UN Charter or the "international rules" that some US presidents have devised to "overrule" the Charter? The US has often said that some countries' leaders have lost the legitimacy to rule and hence should quit or be removed. Should China follow such policies to promote change of regimes to humor Washington?

The US rebalancing to Asia policy, which shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific, is aimed at boosting its military presence in the region. The fact is that Washington has long enjoyed absolute dominance in the region and its attempt to consolidate its position points to just one thing, that it is worried about the declining influence.

Washington believes that its waning influence would weaken its capability to intervene in other countries' internal affairs and thus the new policy thrust.

The US is an established world power with much greater influence than China. Since the ball is in its court now, it has to take the initiative to build a new type of relationship with China.

The author is executive director of the Strategy Research Center of China International Studies Research Fund.

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