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Sino-US ties face new challenges

Publication Date : 28-09-2012

 

The Obama administration has been making great efforts to build a broad partnership with China, but US President Barack Obama or his successor has to face the reality that competition has outweighed cooperation in Sino-US ties.

Therefore, some leading US experts argue that Washington and Beijing should manage competition while expanding cooperation to keep the relationship heading in the right direction.

The past three-and-a-half years have witnessed an unprecedented number of high-level exchanges between Chinese and US officials, including 12 meetings between President Hu Jintao and Obama, the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogues, the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, and many military exchanges.

In addition, the world's two largest economies have worked together on a series of global and regional issues, such as the global financial crisis, climate change and nuclear security.

But despite all the communication and cooperation, strategic distrust is still growing, the number of trade disputes is increasing, and more and more people in the United States regard China as a competitor instead of a partner.

A recent PEW Research Centre survey shows that 66 per cent of the general public, and the majority of five expert groups (government, military retirees, business, scholars and media), said they see China as a competitor of the United States.

At the same time, a majority of both the US public and the experts said the US cannot trust China.

About half of US citizens say the Asian nation's emergence as a world power poses a major threat to the US.

And most respondents said they regard the large amount of US debt held by China, the loss of US jobs to China and the US trade deficit with China as very serious problems.

As George Washington University professor David Shambaugh said in his new book Tangled Titans, the fundamental elements of China-US relations have changed since the 1990s as have the nations' perceptions toward each other.

Shambaugh - an internationally recognised expert on Chinese studies - has visited the country in 32 consecutive years and spent 2009-10 on a sabbatical as a senior Fulbright scholar there.

He said in the book that his recent experience in China told him that "something more basic and something very negative was transpiring in US-China relations".

To probe the deeper dynamics and the forces driving the relationship, Shambaugh and another 15 top scholars in the field recently debated the current state of China-US ties.

They said that the major theme of the relationship in the short and medium term is that the two big powers are closely tied together with extensive cooperation and growing competition, a "new normal" called "coopetition".

What has really changed, Shambaugh said, is the balance of cooperation and competition.

"The competitive elements in the relationship are growing and now becoming primary, while the cooperative ones are secondary and declining," he said.

"The relationship is in a state of competitive coexistence: We have to manage the competition and expand the zone of cooperation, but expanding the zone of cooperation is increasingly difficult, Americans should be honest with ourselves about the possibility of that."

But now both governments are still reluctant to openly talk about the competition and distrust, the professor added. Therefore, he urged Washington to be honest with itself and China about the real state of the relationship.

Ashley Tellis, an Asian strategy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said US-China relations are going to be defined more and more by competition.

"US-China relations promise to remain troubled, competitive, and vexatious because of a variety of serious near-term problems in the arenas of economic relations, military operations, and regional geopolitics," he said.

 

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