Reset relations with more trust

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-28 08:06
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US President Barack Obama took a "shellacking" in the midterm elections, yet he ended the year in a more cheerful mood as Congress repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and passed a huge tax bill, the New START treaty and several other bills.

Sino-US relations have followed a similar trajectory in 2010. As predicted by analysts and journalists at the start, it was a year of frictions.

But, at the year-end, we were hearing US government officials making positive comments on the recent Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting in Washington and the positive role China has played in easing the latest tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

There is more to expect in the weeks ahead. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to visit China on Jan 9, a year after China cut bilateral military ties in protest at the proposed US arms sales to Taiwan.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell said Gates would work to build a military tie with China "that is confident in tone, cooperative in nature and comprehensive in scope".

Gates will look to "extend upon those areas where we can cooperate" with China's military and promote dialogue aimed at improving "mutual understanding and reducing the risk of miscalculation".

Of course, there are even greater expectations for the visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington on Jan 19, which many hope will help soothe the troubled relationship by setting a positive tone and improving trust.

We have seen a lot of distrust on both sides in 2010. Some Chinese think that there is a US conspiracy to contain China.

Meanwhile, many in the United States consider China a threat, stealing jobs and hurting US interests around the world. Many frictions in bilateral trade arose from this distrust.

With such a mindset, both countries are denied many possible win-win opportunities.

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution has warned of the danger of such thinking.

"When you think China's threat is real then it becomes real. At the same time, if you think US policy is anti-China, sooner or later you will want to reinforce that kind of thing. It will become real. So that is a danger. And that danger certainly escalated quickly in 2010."

However, given the broad cooperation and exchanges in everything from security, business, clean energy, education and governments at various levels, the differences between the two countries really make up only a fraction of the larger picture in bilateral ties.

But the hype by politicians and media has made many people in China, the US and other parts of the world feel that the opposite is true.

The leaders of the two countries are well aware of the problem. In September, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proposed several measures to improve mutual trust.

"The deeper the mutual trust, the bigger the space for cooperation between each other," he said.

President Obama has also expressed the need for candid dialogue and more mutual strategic trust.

There is much hope that the visits by Hu and Gates will make real progress to build trust.

No one, however, expects mutual strategic trust to arrive overnight. After all, it has not been achieved even after 30 years of diplomatic ties.

But both should try to strike a positive tone while addressing their differences. As Wen said, the two countries should always look at each other in a positive light.

That requires the wisdom and efforts of not only government leaders but also people across a wide spectrum in both countries.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. He can be reached at