Better communication needed to enhance mutual respect and understanding and overcome long-standing problems
Media in both China and the United States judged that the recent visit to the United States by Vice-President Xi Jinping had brought the desired results. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve Sino-US relations. Both countries should use more political wisdom to try and overcome the lack of mutual political trust.
China and the US have different values and ideologies, which makes it inherently difficult for the two sides to reach a consensus on many issues. Added to this is the seemingly unavoidable suspicion the existing power has of a rising power.
China and the US both think the other adopts double standards and lacks fairness, but they both need to reflect on whether they are too subjective in their judgments of the other side. Both countries also have a domestic group that exhibits a strong antipathy toward the other country and which, because of private interests or ideology, tends to overstate and exaggerate sensitive issues between the two countries and tries to influence their foreign policies, which gives the impression that there are frequent conflicts between China and the US.
In fact, China and the US have some common characteristics that can contribute to harmonious relations. There are no territorial disputes, there is no accumulated rancor between the two countries and their national characters are quite similar. Moreover, China and the US are in substantial agreement on their expectations of the international order.
These all provide a favorable foundation for improving Sino-US relations in the future. But to achieve better relations both sides should not dogmatically tell the other side what to do. They should reach a consensus and implement practical measures to realize the aims of the consensus.
The policies of both countries which relate to the other should be as transparent as possible to reduce any suspicion that might be caused by a lack of information. The two countries should bear in mind the key concerns of the other side, and establish a bilateral information reporting system to make each country's position clear on significant issues, so as to avoid misjudgments. Both sides should ensure smooth communication and encourage communication among their legislatures, local authorities and non-governmental organizations. Although different voices are acceptable, the official statements of both countries should avoid being extreme.
Considering the basic differences and long-standing problems between China and the US, the most important thing is to enhance mutual understanding through more transparency, patience and interaction. As to some non-core differences, such as human rights, Xi outlined the Chinese government's position on these issues during his visit to the US. Even if there are still differences on these issues, Xi has shown China's positive attitude toward dialogue.
With regard to human rights, China has clearly explained that the particular individuals that the US has expressed concerns about have been sentenced because they violated the law. China will guarantee their basic human rights according to the related international treaty, and will permit some neutral international organizations to visit them at a proper time.
The US should acknowledge the overall improvement in China's human rights conditions, and the government's effective measures to promote a more just and harmonious society, which has enabled the vast majority of its huge population to enjoy a more dignified and happier life.
While Sino-US relations are a top priority for China's diplomacy, it is only one of the US' most important relationships. This means China will be in a passive position in Sino-US relations for a long time, but it doesn't mean that China can't take the initiative.
We have to change our former approach, trying to improve political harmony through economic exchange, to a new approach that considers economic, political and social communications together. We cannot maintain Sino-US relations solely on economic interests.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.