Forum is a larger step toward openness

Updated: 2011-07-15 11:51

By Cheng Xiaohe (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The China-US Governors Forum is a welcome addition to a host of designated talks between the two nations and it is expected to fulfill several positive functions.

The establishment of the forum is an outgrowth of intensive talks between China and the US in recent months. On the national level, visits between Chinese and American leaders are becoming more frequent; the China-US Strategic & Economic Dialogue has been invaluable in allowing senior officials to exchange views on important issues; and the volume of two-way trade in 2010 exceeded $385 billion.

On the local level, bilateral dialogues about economies are picking up.

Since Nanjing and St. Louis forged a sister-city relationship in 1979, more than 200 sister-city ties have formed between Chinese provinces and cities with American counterparts. Except for the three autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang and Ningxia, every province on the mainland has established ties with a sister state in the US. Hunan province alone has set up city ties with 11 cities in the US.

The increasing contact between leaders from China and the US and the proliferation of sister-city ties highlights a link that can integrate interactions throughout all levels of office and one that can be strengthened through the Governors Forum.

Another important function of the forum is that it can greatly expand diplomacy to both sides. According to the American political system, the federal government, led by the president, is in charge of foreign policy and national security while state governments enjoy a high degree of autonomy in running local affairs, including homegrown businesses.

The inclusion of gubernatorial governments into the Sino-US dialogue not only makes the meeting of the US National Governors Association more fruitful, but also adds an interesting dynamic to the US' foreign policy toward China. By the same token, foreign policy decision-making has been the domain of the central government of China. The participation of provincial governors in the forum can enlarge China's diplomatic base that is still confined to a small number of the elite. The inclusion reinforces a trend of decentralization in China's foreign policy decision-making, in which local senior officials have begun to gain more of an influence.

China and the US have set up dozens of designated talks over the three decades. Although the establishment of the forum has come a little bit too late, it reflects new changes in Sino-US bilateral relations, including China's emergence as a world power and as a promising source of investment. It also reflects growing tolerance of China's political system from American politicians.

Even though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the forum is designed "to extend mutual understanding and interests beyond national governments to individuals, businesses, and state and provincial governments", it will take time for both Chinese and American to adapt to this new bilateral relationship. This new dialogue will certainly boost communication and cooperation between China and the US on the sub-national level, but there is a caveat: It may also create new bones of contention.

The author is a scholar with the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

For China Daily

(China Daily 07/15/2011 page7)


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