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Sino-US relations Show Increasing Maturity

Sino-US relations have attracted unprecedented attention this year.

On one hand, since the beginning of the year heated debates have continued almost non-stop concerning US policy towards China. The debates have covered nearly all the aspects of bilateral relations and reached a depth and range unmatched by any previous nationwide discussion on the topic.

One the other hand, big shots from the US political and business circles have travelled to China in quick succession like waves crashing on the shore. Even Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, who had been reluctant to visit China, finally made his first trip to Beijing in his current official capacity. And the latest visit to Beijing by US President George W. Bush undoubtedly pushed the ongoing China debate to a new high, injecting fresh momentum into the development of bilateral ties.

Matching this thorough debate is the complexity found in Sino-US relations.

The undying noise from various peddlers of the "China threat" mumbo-jumbo poses a major challenge to Sino-US relations. Yet, the two countries have seen good results in their co-operation in fighting terrorism and WMD proliferation on a global scale, in solving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula on a regional level, and in preventing "Taiwan independence." Although some interest groups and congresspersons in the United States have been complaining about bilateral ties, the Bush administration has managed to see the bigger picture and use some pragmatism in its China policy.

What the above-mentioned phenomena and the successful China visit of President Bush really show is the fact that Sino-US relations are entering a new historical phase. This new phase is not only connected to the development of diplomatic ties between the two countries in the past 30 odd years, but also has its own unique characteristics.

First of all, Sino-US ties are gaining strategic significance with growing influence over the status quo of international politics. As former US President Bush, father of the current one, pointed out at the China-US Relation Forum held in Beijing recently, Sino-US ties have become "the most important bilateral relationship" in today's world. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao also emphasized in their separate talks with President Bush that the relationship between China and the Unite States has transcended the bilateral level and is gaining "global significance" and having a "far-reaching influence over the whole world."

Second, the background of bilateral relations is undergoing intricate yet significant changes. To the United States, the "China issue" is giving way to "the issue of China's rise." As Americans watch China and ponder the direction of their China strategy, their view of China is morphing from "a developing China" into "a rising China;" from "a weak China" into "a strong China;" and from "the theory of a crumbling China" into "the theory of a rising China." To China, how to deal with the United States in an updated way has been the main train of thought throughout 2005 in adjustment of strategic thinking towards the United States.

Third, the nature of Sino-US ties is changing. Though no fundamental changes have taken place in the overall nature of Sino-US relations, in practice the bilateral relationship has been upgraded to that between two "important members in the same system" from that between "an outsider (China) and insider," and between "a new member and the leader of a system" (of course, the United States still sees itself as the leader of that system).

This change hums to the same tune China has been marching to in recent years of not challenging the United States globally, not elbowing the United States out regionally and actively seeking co-operation bilaterally. It signals that the co-operation and competition between the two countries is now within "the same system."

Fourth, the state of interaction between China and the United States is changing quietly. Compared to the responsive mode of the past, today's China is taking more strategic initiatives in developing Sino-US relations. This is not only a result of the fast increase of China's strength, but also a benefit of the fruitful exploits of the country's new diplomatic manoeuvres.

Fifth, Sino-US relations are developing in breadth and depth. In breadth, bilateral exchanges have risen from the political, economic, military and cultural level to strategic security at a regional, global and non-traditional security level. This and the opening of strategic dialogue between the two countries, concrete co-operation in fighting terrorism, AIDS and avian flu, and the resumption of exchanges between the two armed forces, all point to the fact that there are less and less blank spots in the field of bilateral relations.

In depth, dialogue in various areas is becoming more systematic and organized. The United States is paying increasing attention to more profound issues such as China's economic, judicial, political and religious systems in its China strategy. China in its US relations is also attaching growing importance to contacts with not only the government but Congress as well, not just federal but also state level and bureaucrats, as well as the broad masses.

More importantly, the two sides seem to be seeking a new manner of co-operation on the Taiwan question, namely the recognition that they share common interests in preventing Taiwan from achieving "independence" and maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits area. They have already begun co-operation to this end, and it has proven beneficial to both sides.

Sixth, the United States is also showing some new thinking in its China strategy. That is, it should see the situation as it is and try to co-exist with China, since the latter's speedy development is already unstoppable. Trying to "tie down" China the way it did to the former Soviet Union is both unattainable and unnecessary; and the best way to deal with a peacefully developing China is to "integrate with, co-operate with, keep in contact with and guide," with some "containing, restricting and defensive" moves as secondary measures.

(China Daily November 24, 2005)

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