Managing great power relations

By Zhao Jinglun
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 11, 2013
Adjust font size:

When you see (on TV) Xi and Obama strolling side by side in shirt sleeves across a rustic expanse of grass and over a foot bridge with the San Jacinto Mountains as the background, you get the impression that they have probably forged a personal rapport and elevated bilateral relations to a new high.

In two days of talks totaling eight hours, including a working dinner of lobster and steak prepared by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, they reached an understanding of the right way to manage great power relations: not to allow contentious issues like cyberespionage and territorial claims in the Pacific lead to escalating conflicts – a new cold war. That is, they are determined to avoid being caught in the "Thucydides trap" as I argued in my last column.

As Joseph Nye, Jr., Harvard scholar and advocate of soft power, put it: "This was the most important meeting between an American president and a Chinese leader in 40 years, since Nixon and Mao." He said Obama was right to work on first creating a relationship and a tone, and dealing with specific conflicts later.

Departing U.S. national security advisor Tom Donilon said the talks were "uniquely informal," "constructive," "wide-ranging" and "positive" for a vital great power relationship which is often prickly and require constant maintenance.

Among the most notable agreements arrived at by both leaders is their determination to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear arms.

The North has agreed to return to six-party denuclearization talk, which was once declared dead and buried by Pyongyang. This about-face was brought about by relentless pressure from Beijing: Chinese banks (not just Bank of China, but also the Construction Bank, Industry and Commerce Bank and Agriculture Bank) closed their accounts with North Korea's foreign trade bank. China also reduced fuel and food aid to North Korea, that resulted in severe shortages. Pyongyang had to open its emergency food reserve to feed its people.

North Korea has also made a surprise overture proposing government-to-government dialogue with South Korea, easing tensions on the peninsula and moving toward a thaw.

Another remarkable achievement was their agreement on a joint effort to combat climate change. They are to discuss ways to drastically reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are used in refrigerants and insulating foams. President Obama announced that "A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, roughly equal to two years' worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions."

But cyberespionage remains a bone of contention. President Obama calls cyber attacks (repeatedly denied by China) an "inhibitor" to relations and would be a "very difficult" problem to solve. Xi and Obama offered directions to working group officials from both sides to sit down to discuss cyber issues in July.

A solid basis of China-America relations is their mutually interdependent economies. The United States and the former Soviet Union never had that kind of close economic relations. Both leaders talked about where they want their economies to go. They will continue to maintain a win-win situation.

The leaders will keep talking. President Xi has already invited President Obama to China for a repeat of the "shirt-sleeves summit".

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from