By Yang Wenchang
In a signed article in the April 17 issue of the Financial Times, Robert Zoellick, the current governor of the World Bank and the former deputy secretary of the US State Department who first referred to China as a "stakeholder" in the international system, remarked that another important political document needed to be signed between the United States and China, joining the Shanghai Communique in 1972, the Joint Communique of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations in late 1978 and the communique in 1982.
Zoellick maintains that profound changes have taken place in US-China relations in the 35 years since former US President Richard Nixon came to China to open relations with the People's Republic in 1972, and, as a result, the two countries' common interests are in a period of realignment.
He argues that the leaders of the US and China should demonstrate some of the courage shown by their predecessors of three decades ago and come up with a new political document suited to this new historical context.
This writer discussed the matter with Dr Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, and he shared Zoellick's ideas. This writer, who shares the belief that this issue is of great significance, would like to offer his own point of view.
It is first necessary to review the three existing communiques before driving home the importance of signing a new political document.
The Chinese and US governments signed the Shanghai Communique on February 28, 1972, expressing the shared desire to normalize bilateral relations and stating that "neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony"; and "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Straits maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China."
The Shanghai Communique clearly defined the common security interests of China and the United States in opposing Soviet hegemonism and also expressed the disputes existing between the two sides in such a way that each side separately stated their positions on certain issues. This was the biggest benefit of the communique.
After 23 years, Chinese-US relations began to thaw.
On December 16, 1978, the two governments signed the Joint Communique of Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States of America. In the communique, the United States recognized that the government of the PRC was the sole legal government of China and that both sides decided to establish diplomatic ties starting from January 1, 1979. Later, the United States severed its "diplomatic relations" with Taiwan, withdrew US troops from the island and suspended the joint defense treaty with Taiwan. This communique also reiterated the consensus reached by the two sides in the Shanghai Communique, including their common understanding on opposing hegemonism.
On August 17, 1982, the Chinese and US governments signed a third political document, known as the August 17 Communique. The United States stated in the document once again that it recognized the government of the PRC as the sole legal government of China and that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.
Both sides acknowledged respecting each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the need to refrain from interfering in one another's internal affairs as basic principles guiding bilateral relations.
In addition, the document expressed both sides' desire to strengthen economic, cultural, educational and scientific ties on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
This communique represented a step forward by the United States in its position on the Taiwan question and showed that both sides hoped to push ahead bilateral relations in a comprehensive way.
Looking back over the three communiques, people easily see that the overriding common interests of China and the United States at the time were to stave off Soviet hegemonism and to handle the Taiwan question carefully. This was suited to the actual international and regional situations then.
However, the world's strategic framework has undergone dramatic and profound changes since the early 1990s. The Soviet Union disintegrated. The geopolitical landscape altered sharply in Eastern Europe. And a new world framework emerged from the tumult.
In this situation, the interests shared by China and the United States during the Cold-War era no longer exist. But new common interests in the political, security and economic fields are quickly taking shape. At the same time, the old disputes between the two countries are also changing significantly. All this considered, China and the United States urgently need to sign a new communique to redefine their common interests in this new context and to map out the guidelines to address their disagreements.
A host of new things demand to be taken care of.
Sino-US economic ties, for example, are moving ahead in big strides and have become a powerful factor cementing bilateral relations. The trade volume between the two countries stood at zero in 1972. It shot up to US$14.2 billion in 1992 and hit US$270 billion last year. American enterprises have poured into China, and the United States has become the biggest source of foreign investment in China. Though trade imbalances have become a big issue, efforts to consolidate and strengthen bilateral trade have become a powerful driving force for the development of the Chinese-US relations.
Also, China and the United States have common responsibilities to safeguard world peace and promote global development in a post-Cold War world that is far from secure. The world is currently haunted by a string of security problems, ranging from terrorism, local wars and nuclear proliferation to energy shortages and worsening environmental conditions.
There are disagreements as well as consensus between China and the United States on these important issues. The governments of China and the United States should define new areas for cooperation and come up with effective ways to settle the discords.
Then there is Taiwan.
Before 1992, the core of the Taiwan question was which political party represented China - the Communist Party of China or the Kuomintang.
But "Taiwan independence" elements have been running increasingly wild over the last decade or so. Chen Shui-bian's "Taiwan independence" talk is no longer an ideological question involving "democracy and freedom". Instead, it has become a question of trying to force "Taiwan independence" on the world community. It is actually affecting the peace and stability in China and in Asia-Pacific at large. The Chinese government and people will never have it.
So, containing "Taiwan independence" elements and safeguarding peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits are in the common interests of China and the United States. A new political document between the two nations ought to recognize this.
Due to the different histories of the two countries, a wide gap exists between the Chinese and American ideologies and social systems. The issue can be carefully addressed through mutual respect, by drawing on each other's strong points, by seeking common ground and by setting aside differences.
However, the American public harbors misgivings about China's rapid development, owing to insufficient communication between the two countries. Some even go to the length of regarding China's speedy development as a "threat" to the United States, believing China is not an American-style democracy. Such sentiments pose the biggest restraint for the progress of bilateral relations.
Under such circumstances, the two countries' common interests should be clearly defined and the principles for handling any disputes worked out. During his visit to the United States in April 2006, President Hu Jintao remarked to US President George W Bush that bringing about a constructive partnership between the two countries would be of global significance.
This is not exaggeration. Insofar as security issues are concerned, for instance, the countries of the Asia-Pacific region and across the globe will be able to rest easy when China and the United States jointly shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining peace and stability in the region and in the world at large. In economic terms, Sino-US cooperation will not only benefit the two countries, but also help power the global economy as well. Culturally, extensive and intensive exchanges between the two countries will help promote dialogue between the different cultures and make it easier for people to learn from each other.
Regardless of how incisive Zoellick's take on the situation is, there is resistance to the idea of drawing up a new political document.
The resistance chiefly comes from people in the US political, media and academic arenas who have failed to understand China's rapid development and thus lack a clear picture of where China is going. They treat China as an "alien" and look at everything unfolding in the country accordingly.
In view of this, this author believes that work must be done in a number of respects.
First, bilateral exchanges at various levels should be expanded in order to promote mutual understanding. Americans ought to keep in mind that they should not base their knowledge of China exclusively on media reports. China welcomes American citizens to visit China to see the country with their own eyes.
Second, the top leaders of the two countries need to meet more frequently to exchange views on matters involving the two countries' fundamental interests, world peace and development.
Third, American researchers and research institutions should observe China objectively and explain to the American public why China has developed so quickly in an objective way.
This author believes that bilateral relations will be able to move steadily ahead once a political document for this new era is drawn up on the basis that the publics of the two countries see clearly where their common interests lie and the international obligations of China and the United States as large countries.
The author is president of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.
(China Daily July 16, 2007)