It’s been half a year since a new US administration took office in Washington. That’s a period more remembered as full of bitter words. But after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s brief visit to China, the general mood appears different. “A turning-point” is the catch phrase of many media reports. Commentaries describe the agreement to resume multi-track dialogues as evidence of cool-head over hot rhetoric.
Although the visit has not changed the nature of any thorny dispute, observers speak highly of its significance, for the two sides agreed to resume talks of the joint economic commission, continue inter-governmental dialogue on human rights, non-proliferation, and finally the talks under a maritime security mechanism on how to deal with accidents such as the mid-air collision in April. And most importantly, both sides say they are looking forward to President George W. Bush’s participation in the APEC leadership conference in Shanghai in October and his visit to Beijing after the APEC meeting.
So how to look at the tone change, or what has really changed? For answers to such questions and more, I talk to Mr. Xia Xiaoyang, senior journalist of the Shanghai-based Wenhui Daily and the paper’s former resident correspondent to the United Nations.
Q: Colin Powell’s brief visit to China last month has been described a turning point in Sino-US relations. How do you see the trip?
A: Powell’s visit is a successful one. And he is the highest level official in the Bush Administration who once visited China. The visit eases the tension between the two countries and starts a dialogue.
Q: How would you comment on the agreements with the Chinese leadership in Beijing?
A: This is a good thing. At least it provides a channel for the two sides to exchange views and to enhance understanding of each other.
Q: The two sides exchanged a wide range of issues, including China’s WTO membership, human rights, proliferation, energy, environmental protection and other international and regional issues. Do you believe the two sides share more in cooperation in those fields or they have more to turn against each other?
A: Let me quote Mr. Powell’s saying when he paid the visit to China. He said China and US has a strong common interest in seeing stable Asia and world where economy can strive and security needs can be met.
Q: On the most sensitive issue of Taiwan, we heard China reiterating the hope that US should to abide by the three existing joint communiquéés while the Bush administration reaffirm the One China policy, but at the same time, it is still selling weapons to Taiwan. How do you look at the dispute and consensus between sides on this issue?
A: Sure. The Taiwan issue is one of the most sensitive issues in Sino-US relations. Both sides have their bottom lines. To the America side, they want to maintain the current status of Taiwan as its important strategic chip. But considering about its interests, it have to uphold the one China policy. To seek the balance, he continues to sell weapons to Taiwan. In the China side, Taiwan issue is a domestic issue. They will not let any other people interfere its unification.
Q: Powell has also agreed with the Chinese side to start or resume dialogue in four areas - including talks of the joint economic commission, continued inter-governmental dialogue on human rights, non-proliferation, and finally talks under a maritime security mechanism. This is seen as highly necessary in dealing with accidents such as the mid-air collision in April. How do you thinks the two sides should learn the lesson of that issue?
A: The most important thing I think is to establish a Crisis Managing Mechanism to avoid similar situations happened in bilateral relations and something unexpected in the future.
Q: Mr. Powell himself admitted he had learned a lot about how fast China has developed as compared with his previous visits in the 1970’s and 80’s. How do you see such high level exchanges promote mutual understanding and reduce hostile attitudes towards each other, especially to a new administration?
A: I think the more high-level exchange proceeded, and the higher understanding it will be reached. Especially for American officials and congressman. If they could come to China to witness the changes and development themselves. They would know more about China. But at the same time, we should remember the fundamental difference between China and US is not just understanding, but also political ideological ones. It needs time to know these differences.
Q: By using the phrase “a turning point”, many observers predict that relationship between the United States and China will improve in the second half of this year, after six-months of twists and turns. President Bush’s participation in the APEC leadership conference in October in Shanghai and his visit to Beijing and China’s expected entry into the WTO either in the end of the year, or early next year will bring the two side somewhat closer. But to what extend?
A: I do believe the Sino-US relationship can see some improvement in the coming months. But to what extend, I am not quite optimistic about it, because there are still quite a number of disputes unsolved, and the differences still exist. So we should not use the current atmosphere or situation to judge the future improvement or future trends of China-US relations.
Q: As someone strongly interested in economic and trade activities, how do you see the cooperation in those areas in easing tension and promote dialogue?
A: In the business world in the US, most business people advocate a better relationship with China, because they have a strong interest in China. As we know, last year, a lot of big companies made great efforts to lobby the US congress and government to approve the PMTR to China, like the NY Live, Microsoft so on and so forth. As we know, those people have great influence on the US politics. So I think by increasing these economic and trade activities between the two countries will certainly ease tensions and promote the political dialogues.
Q: How do you define the relationship between the two giant nations - strategic partnership or strategic competitors?
A: For chance, people are just confused about these phrases, from Clinton Administration to Bush Administration. I think people should be realistic.
Q: What the potential dangers to watch if the two sides can really maintain a constructive relationship - “get mad and get over” as Mr. Powell says, or “get frank, but never bad”?
A: I think they should neither get mad nor get over. We should be more rational to face the fact. To maintain a constructive relationship is good for both sides. And still we should face the differences between the two countries. I think it needs pretty a long time to know the differences