China and the US in a Three-legged Race

There exist many differences between the U.S. and China, whether in history, culture, religion, language or stage of development, or even views on the current world order. This allows for suspicion and differences of opinion to rise. For example, the “China Threat Theory” has had a long-term influence on U.S. policy toward China, while perceived American “dogmatism and hegemony” have influenced Chinese policy toward the U.S.

Looking at all these differences, it seems as though there are only differences between the U.S. and China. However, the coin has another side: Since the 18th Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party, Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama have spoken over the phone five times and met face to face four times, which doesn’t even include President Xi’s formal visit to the U.S. this September. Additionally, trade between the U.S. and China for 2013 surpassed $500 billion and over 40 million personal trips. The latest rounds of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues and other U.S.-China high-level cultural and diplomatic exchanges have been effective, with the former producing a 127-page statement and the latter producing a 119-page statement. These results have touched on a wide range of topics, including collective responses toward global challenges, global climate change, natural resources, science and technology, agriculture, education, and other areas. China helped promote the U.S.-Chinese agreement on climate change, as well as cooperation and common interests on Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and other troubled areas; this seems a little strange/unusual to the average citizen.

So how can we move forward as part-time friends and part-time rivals? China was first to propose the “New Type of Great Power Relations,” which would be based on “mutual respect and win-win.” This does not require the two sides to be without disagreements or conflicts, just for the thinking and leadership to be able to quickly and easily resolve disputes. For this reason, the U.S. and China are like two people participating in a three-legged race: The two sides are close, but there is much friction. If the two people are unable to come together, then in the end, both will be unsuccessful. However, if the two parties can reach a consensus and coordinate to move forward, then their combined power will be spectacular.

The problem is thus: How can we get the two sides to work together rather than impede each other? First comes respect — respect for the other’s view points, for example, the capitalism of the U.S. versus the socialism (with special characteristics) of China. China’s socialism praises individual liberties, but puts the good of the country first. The Chinese saying “be the first to show concern and the last to enjoy yourself” expresses the main idea behind Chinese socialism. There should be respect of the common interests of the two countries. For example, the unique interests that China has in Taiwan and the South China Sea should be respected, and the U.S. should not fan the flames of such disputes. China should respect that the contributions of a U.S.-led world order are real. However, the U.S. should recognize that the emergence and continued growth of developing countries should be reflected in the world’s political order.

It is on a foundation of mutual respect that cooperation can be built; this is not an option for the U.S. and China. In today’s world, there is a high degree of mutual reliance and relations between the international and domestic affairs of nations. If hawkish or belligerent mindsets prevail, then the result will be a mutual loss for the two countries. This is the current reality of U.S.-China relations, no matter if you look at politics, economic or military affairs, human rights, cyber security, or even the global war on terror. Dealing with global climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria are also all issues that require the two sides to cooperate and to have an interest in doing so. If the two sides compete against one another, both will lose. For example, American actions and entrance into the South China Sea have hurt U.S.-China relations and made the situation in the area more complex. The combined size of the two countries means that any minor struggle will inevitably have a larger side effect, possibly even impacting other countries. As the world’s two largest powers, the U.S. and China have a responsibility to ensure world stability and peace, not to increase tensions and conflict.

Two people running a three-legged race for the U.S. and China will be no easy task; the more the two move, the more stumbling there will be. The two need to abandon this way and pursue the path of “New Great Power Relations.” The two should work with the international community to build a more inclusive world order; this is the proper way forward for the two countries.

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