The Paradox of Sino-US Relations

One of the main goals of United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to China is believed to be focused around the pressure on China regarding sanctions on North Korea. A difference of opinion between China and the United States regarding the North Korean nuclear problem has been magnified recently, and the North Korean nuclear weapons test has given further rise to the impression that the two countries hold conflicting views. In reality, however, both countries are alike in their shared, firm opposition toward North Korea developing nuclear weapons — it is merely the method and tactics of sanctioning North Korea that has caused differences of opinion.

This situation could be regarded as a microcosm of the overall “paradox” of Sino-U.S. relations in recent years. Both countries are highly pragmatic, but in reality, when dealing with each other, both sides often forget their pragmatism and instead sink into philosophical arguments to such an extent that the more important issues get ignored. For example, China suggested that both countries respect each other’s core interests, but the United States never mentions the words, “China’s core interests”; just mentioning these words would be a recognition of China’s request in this respect. The United States even intends to demonize every one of China’s ideas. This is an immature way to handle relations with other powers — the U.S. is not focused on reality. Instead it is driven by, and even restricted by, its own concepts.

Despite this, there is still progress being made toward maturing Sino-U.S. relations. What does this mean? This means not allowing individual disagreements to sway overall Sino-U.S. relations. The stability of Sino-U.S. relations is not dictated by whether or not both sides agree or disagree, or by the number of disagreements between the countries; rather, it depends on how adept both sides are at compromising with each other, or at controlling their differences. The increasing maturity and pragmatism within Sino-U.S. relations is driven by both active and passive factors. The active factors are obvious: ever increasing cooperation between the United States and China; whether it pertains to bilateral trade, climate change, counterterrorism, etc., both sides are increasingly dependent on one another. But the passive factors are mainly issues to do with costs. To be frank, it is an argument that neither side can afford to lose.

Currently, the biggest problem within Sino-U.S. relations is that each other’s interests are not observed. Neither side is used to acknowledging or considering each other’s interests. The United States has long been said to be in the “leading position” globally, but it never habitually considers the interests of other countries. On the other hand, the key point of China’s proposition of “mutual consideration of each other’s core interests” lies in the “mutual” aspect thereof; while we are busy complaining about America, we might want to acknowledge and consider the United States’ interests as well.

The essence of considering each other’s interests is sharing mutual interests from an equal level, and with an acceptance of limits. Sharing interests is just showing consideration for the other side; respect for the other side is at least required when interests are not shared. Sharing mutual interests is a necessary trend in the current wave of globalization, such as in the process of worldwide economic integration. More and more countries are habitually “sharing sovereignty” in order to push for even greater levels of integration. In this respect, the establishment and effective running of the Eurozone could be said to be the highest degree of international relations attained so far, and the most mature way of sharing mutual sovereignty and interests. By extension, the fates of communities all around the world are interdependent, and sharing the benefits of political security also appears to be increasingly both necessary and inevitable as each day passes. The “conservative power” of the United States and the “new power” of China ought to avoid the “Thucydides trap” — they should work together to achieve new levels of dedication to the establishment of a “new kind of power relations,” but they must strive to explore and generate the new concept of “sharing interests.” The greater the risk of potential conflict and sensitive situations occurring, the more we need to learn to responsibly respect each other’s interests.

The world is ever more rapidly becoming a “global village,” this requires China and the United States to build a foundation of mutual respect and consideration for each other’s core interests to allow for a new way to share common goals. Building the new kind of power relations is our strategic vision for Sino-U.S. relations, and it is worth great investment in order to achieve this goal. Neither China nor the United States can afford to linger around. Instead, both need to work even harder to build a pragmatic foundation.

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