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East Asia Obama's top diplomatic priority
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The importance of the visit lies in its topics. Facing Obama is the severest financial and economic crisis for decades. What he has to undertake are two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and three regional hot spots, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Korean and Iranian nuclear issues.

As mentioned by Clinton in her speech to the Asia Society before her departure, the relations with countries she will visit, as well as all the partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region, are indispensable for the security and prosperity of the US. The US is preoccupied with the greatest global security threats, including financial catastrophe, economic chaos, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), food security, a health emergency, climate change, energy shortages, and transnational crimes.

These threats cannot be stopped by borders or oceans, and need all stakeholders to help resolve them.

While Biden laid special emphasis on dealing with security issues, such as counter-terrorism and preventing WMD proliferation at the Munich conference, Clinton committed to coordinating with East Asia to deal with the global financial and economic crisis, and push the six-party talks. As the top three economies in the world, the US, Japan and China's responsibilities and standpoints are vital for rescuing the global economy, while advancing the process of achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is also crucial to the security of the Asia-Pacific at large.

It is key among all key points that the US, a super power, and China, a rising power, coordinate standpoints, and set up a global strategic dialogue handling both traditional and untraditional security challenges.

The biggest diplomatic legacy of the Bush administration is the improvement in Sino-American relations, which had been turbulent in the decade after the end of Cold War. In the era of globalization, complicated and entangled interests of an unprecedented nature have emerged between China and the US, including high economic mutual dependence, constructive cooperation to deal with regional security challenges, and effective engagement in coping with all sorts of untraditional security challenges.

The visit from Clinton, the first formal contact between the Obama administration and the Chinese leadership, can be considered the "trip to set the tune" for the new US administration's Chinese policy. When meeting with President Hu Jintao, Clinton noted: "The Sino-US relationship has entered a new era of positive cooperation since the two sides share broad common interests on a host of fields and global issues. The United States is willing to further enhance cooperation with China in various fields."

The "new era" said by Clinton can be identified in three aspects: Firstly, Sino-American relations today have completely transformed. With unprecedented interdependence, the two countries have formed wide, complicated, and intertwined interests. Therefore, this era needs cooperation rather than stereotypes.

Secondly, relations have grown to become one of the most important bilateral relations in the world - crucial to the development, stability and prosperity of not only the two countries, but the Asia-Pacific and even the whole world. Thus it requires handling the relations from a strategic and long-term perspective. Both sides can acknowledge the disagreements, but should focus more on the greater picture, not damage the overall relations with specific conflicts and disagreements, and not impair the long-term cooperation with myopia.

Thirdly, the Sino-US cooperation has transcended mere bilateral relations. Besides comprehensive and profound cooperation on traditional issues, strengthening discussion and mutual-trust, vital for the human development amid climate change, is testing the courage and wisdom of bilateral cooperation.

During the election campaign, Clinton wrote that Sino-US relations will be "the most important in the world" in this century. At her confirmation hearing on January 13, Clinton stated frankly that China is a vital country in the changing global configuration. The US hopes to cultivate positive and cooperative relations with China, in order to deepen and strengthen the linkages in many issues, and deal with the differences between the pair.

It is especially crucial to set up a more effective high-level bilateral dialogue mechanism, so as to advance the cooperation coping with significant global issues in the new period. Among the specific issues, besides resolving economic friction, strengthening policy coordination, and pushing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, it is also important to strengthen the cooperation and form a consensus in addressing climate change.

In her speech at the Asia Society, Clinton said: "Orville Schell's commentary in Time magazine reminds us that collaboration on clean energy and greater efficiency offers a real opportunity to deepen the overall US-Chinese relationship." Cooperation gradually launched by China and the US on this crucial issue will dictate the direction and sustainable development of human beings. Its impacts might be revolutionary for the adjustment of industrial and energy structures, energy conservation, cooperation on environmental protection technology, and even demographic and employment structures. Thus the influence will be enormous and profound.

The author, Fu Mengzi, is Assistant president of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily February 24, 2009)

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