Fostering cooperation and dialogue

By Jon Taylor
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, June 19, 2013
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Critical juncture

Jon Taylor is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science.

Jon Taylor is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a professor of political science.

The last few years have been difficult for China-U.S. relations. Distrust has grown on both sides. China's rise raises a host of issues for the United States and for China. Now that a new leadership team has taken over in China and Obama has begun his second term, the potential to encourage opportunities for cooperation has arrived. The summit was a first step, one that began by the United States recognizing a rising China with the care and respect that it deserves as a great power.

China and the United States enjoy an immensely profitable trade and investment relationship. China is the second largest U.S. trade partner, its third largest export market and its biggest source of imports. The United States is expected to replace the EU as China's largest trade partner this year. The rapid pace of economic cooperation between China and the United States, while mutually beneficial, have made trade relations an increasingly complex issue. Ongoing issues over market access, intellectual property, security reviews of investments and restrictions on technology exports continue to complicate their burgeoning trade relations. All were recognized and discussed during the summit.

There were a number of expected topics, some of concern to China, some to the United States and some of mutual concern. For example, the cyber security issue, which most Western media played up and oversimplified before the summit, was actually an issue where both China and the United States demonstrated that they are in the process of trying to turn an issue of common challenges into an area of cooperation. Xi told Obama that cyber security should be a new highlight of bilateral cooperation, rather than a source of suspicion and friction.

Some have downplayed the "shirt sleeve summit," arguing that it was long on expectations, but short on specifics. Expectations aside, the goal was never about achieving checkmarks on a list of specific policy outcomes (although agreement was reached on working together to phase down the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons). Rather, the goal was to develop a degree of trust and familiarity between the two leaders that will allow them to tackle mutual challenges in a more direct and productive manner.

And that goal was met. The summit was a success. No matter how informal, the Sunnylands summit demonstrated the recognition on the part of both nations that China-

U.S. relations are at a critical juncture. Ultimately, what came out of this meeting will set the tone for China-U.S. relations, and particularly presidential interactions, for the next 10 years.

New relationship

The Xi-Obama summit provided a unique opportunity for both presidents to lay the foundations for a new, more mutually productive relationship, one that can weather what may be turbulent decades ahead. Both Xi and Obama sent a clear message about the importance of China-U.S. relations by carving out an opportunity to meet early in the new Chinese leadership's tenure and to set the tone for engagement during the second term of the Obama administration. By laying the groundwork for a new type of major power relations, antiquated, Cold War-era thinking regarding China-U.S. relations can be avoided through candid discussion and mutual cooperation.

Xi and Obama have seized upon this opportunity to improve China-U.S. relations. The two presidents addressed areas in which greater cooperation can yield mutually beneficial results, as well as candidly noting where potential areas of conflict still remain. This summit presented China and the United States the opportunity to adopt a long-term perspective on relations, one that will lead to sustained, high-level dialogue on the core threats that will shape the world of the future and the potential roles of China and the United States, both separately and collaboratively in such a world.

The Xi-Obama summit has set the tone for a new type of bilateral relationship that features reciprocal recognition of China and America's role as world powers, mutual trust, cooperation and shared economic prosperity.

While it may not always be easy for either Xi or Obama to avoid misinterpreting the other's intentions, the spirit of the "shirt sleeve summit" has created momentum to accommodate each side's views. Although the two nations may well disagree on issues, both sides agreed to avoid conflict, enhance engagement, and deepen cooperation. As President Xi noted: "When China and the United States work together, we can be an anchor for world stability and the propeller of world peace."



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