By Yuan Peng
'Stakeholder' and 'hedging', the two concepts brought out by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in a keynote speech on US-China relations in Washington on September 21 last year, were included in the Quadrennial Defense Review released in February and the National Security Strategy Report published in March.
The official adoption of these two words indicates the US government is putting finishing touches on its new China strategy. Like a coin with two sides, the new strategy, on the one hand, expects China to be a 'responsible stakeholder' and will see to it that America accepts and integrates China as such into its global agenda, while, on the other hand, making sure China's rise will not challenge its global and regional interests.
Within this general framework, the political relations between China and the US have made noticeable headway.
First of all, the two heads of state have met several times, helping keep the strategic relations between the two countries stable.
Although Chinese President Hu Jintao's official US visit was postponed due to Hurricane Katrina, their other meetings all went through as scheduled without a hitch. For instance, their brief informal meeting last September in New York on the sidelines of the UN 60th anniversary summit went very well.
When President Hu makes his first official visit to the US this week since taking office, the whole world will be watching intently this important event of international politics. There is no doubt the two heads of state will hammer out the strategic framework for further development of a healthy and peaceful bilateral relationship between China and the US.
Second, strategic dialogue is going deeper. Compared to the first round, the second round of strategic dialogue, held on December 7-8 in Washington, began cutting into the strategic issues about which both sides are most concerned, covering topics from the definition of the term 'stakeholder' to how both sides should accept each other's presence in the Asia-Pacific region. They discussed almost everything of interest in their bilateral relations.
This kind of candid and open style of dialogue played an irreplaceable role in nurturing mutual trust and dissolving suspicion between the two countries. The fact that China and the US can conduct such regular dialogues shows their bilateral ties are maturing.
Third, exchanges between the military of both countries are back on track. Upon concluding his three-day China visit on October 20, 2005, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he had learned a lot and had been deeply impressed by what he had seen on that visit. His view on China's quickening pace in defense modernization also changed from 'not understandable' to 'understandable' after his visit, though he insisted the host had a long way to go toward military transparency.
Finally, broad exchanges between the two nations in other areas are also under way. Among such exchanges, the most eye-catching is the 'Chinese Culture Month' held in Washington last October with great fanfare.
Looking the other way, many US members of Congress have visited China in a series of delegations in recent months, marking another highlight in the development of Sino-US ties. Some of those American legislators admitted they knew little about China before joining tours, which were the very first for quite a few of them. Their visits would help reinforce the foundation of China-US relations.
All the above, however, cannot replace the negative side of bilateral relations, parts of which are in fact growing. Of the negative developments, none is more prominent than the trade disputes, which are really caused by 'unequal' political relations rather than by trade 'disparity'. The fact that the US has consistently allowed its domestic politics, its ideological prejudice against China, its own idea of values and the deep-set political desire to dominate international affairs to supersede fairness is what prevents a speedy solution to the trade frictions.
Meanwhile, the same inequality is also fomenting on such issues as human rights and religious freedom.
Then there is the Taiwan question, which has become a key focus in China-US relations again following the subtle maneuvering by the US, the mainland and Taiwan over Chen Shui-bian's nullification of Taiwan's 'National Unification Guidelines'.
What will become of the China-US relationship? Is there more room for its development? We can certainly expect a clearer answer to each of the questions during President Hu's upcoming visit.
Any further and substantial progress of bilateral ties from now on requires forward-looking political wisdom based on critical analysis of the past, which would enable both sides to explore new areas and deeper space for cooperation. The following four areas of cooperation should point out the direction for both sides.
By this I mean the kind of cooperation that goes beyond specific affairs and the realm of bilateral ties, the kind that demands communication over major international issues of far-reaching significance and mutual interest and eventually leads to teamwork.
For this the first thing the two countries need to do is to establish coexistence, mutual acceptance and mutual prosperity on the stage that both are developing on the Asia-Pacific region. China is an Asia-Pacific nation, while the US has major strategic interests in the region. It has become an unavoidable issue as to how the two countries should prevent future standoffs as a result of China's development.
Cooperation on energy resources
The US and China are the top two consumers of energy resources in the world and are thus bound to cooperate in this area. Such cooperation includes mutual study and absorption of each other's energy policies, cooperation in related technology, including nuclear energy, and cooperation in energy strategy. If the two countries succeed in such cooperation, it would not only enhance strategic mutual trust between them but also contribute positively to global energy assurance and security.
Cooperation in unconventional areas
The characteristics of the new millennium are speeding up the substitution of conventional security challenges by unconventional ones as one of the most urgent issues facing the world today.
Cooperation on such security issues not only suits the characteristics of our times, but also enjoys the bonus of less restraints by ideological and political concerns. Such cooperation has so much room for development that, if well managed, it would serve as a new cornerstone for the lasting and steady development of Sino-US relations.
The author is a researcher with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
(China Daily April 17, 2006)