Visits to get Sino-US ties back on track

08:27, September 07, 2010      

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US Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon (left) and National Economic Council Director Larry Summers in Beijing on Monday. Ng Han Guan / Reuters

A number of high-profile US guests and "positive signals" on Monday indicate that China and the US are trying to get relations, which have suffered in recent months, back on track.

There was even a hint of progress on military ties, which have been at a standstill recently.

In a meeting with former US president Jimmy Carter, Premier Wen Jiabao said that "China is ready to work with the US to fend off various risks and continually push forward the relationship".

Wen said it was crucial at this moment for China and the US to develop a positive, cooperative and all-round relationship, which required arduous and long-term efforts from both sides.

Meanwhile, Xu Caihou, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, gave a rare signal this year that military ties could be improved, telling John Hamre, US deputy defense secretary under former president Bill Clinton, that China is willing to maintain dialogue and contacts with the US to push forward military ties.

In a parallel development, during a meeting with a US team led by Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and Li Yuanchao, head of the Communist Party of China's Organization Department, said bilateral ties were "sound" though there were some sectors that needed to be improved.

It was the first time that a cluster of high-ranking Chinese officials gave positive communal signals on Sino-US relations, which have deteriorated during the past few months.

Since the beginning of this year, tensions between China and the US continued to mount due to disputes over US arm sales to Taiwan in January, differences on China's currency policy, US interference in the South China Sea issue and its naval drill on the Yellow Sea. The two countries have also differed over the Iran nuclear issue and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

In March, the US sent Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Jeff Bader, the US National Security Council's senior director of Asian affairs to China. The visit was characterized by some sections of the western media as "an apology tour", yet it still failed to improve ties.

However, the ongoing visit, led by Summers and Donilon, involves higher-ranking officials and demonstrates the Obama administration's determination in bringing ties back on track, said analysts.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the visits show "the US and China working to iron out tensions on issues ranging from currency policy to military ties to Iran".

The international affairs magazine, Foreign Policy, said in a Sept 3 article that by sending a team to China headed by the "somewhat unlikely duo" of Summers and Donilon, the purpose was "to send a clear message that the US is approaching its relations with China strategically, with a view that integrates the full range of economic and security concerns".

The report also stated that "the US has never been especially effective at coordinating its multiple interests in China so that pressure in one policy area produces progress in another - or even simply avoids causing setbacks. So this trip, in concept at least, represents a step in the right direction".

Analysts believe economic and security issues top the agendas of the two US officials.

"Summers will definitely press China for yuan appreciation because the amount China has allowed is far less than what the US Congress desires," Bloomberg quoted Ken Peng, a Beijing-based economist at Citigroup Inc as saying. "The US dollar's slump is also an important driving force."

Negotiations on the worsening Korean Peninsula situation and the Iranian nuclear issue were also expected to be discussed.

However, in an unusual move, the duo paid a visit to the Party's Organization Department, meeting its head Li.

"Through this kind of meeting the US can get an all-round understanding of China," said Ni Feng, assistant director-general of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Both Chinese and US observers said that the visit is mainly to clear out deep-rooted suspicion and regain political trust.

The talks are "likely to help ease the tension and rebuild basic mutual trust," said Shi Yinghong, an expert on Sino-US relations at Renmin University of China, calling the visit "timely".

Douglas H. Paal, a leading analyst in Chinese affairs, said that Obama's Asia team is seeking to persuade China to accentuate the positive through a series of upcoming exchanges, in an article published on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Website.

"Donilon and Summers are likely to use this visit to disabuse China's leadership of any notions of new American hostility, while expressing resolution to pursue vigorously and prudently US maritime, defense, and other interests in the region," Paal wrote in the article.

According to Ni Feng, the core problem in Sino-US relations now is the failure to adapt to the two nations' new power comparison.

"China is rising, so the power comparison of the two nations is changing, but neither of the two countries has adapted themselves to this change," Ni added.

Analysts hold that the significance of this visit was more symbolic, and it required time and patience before the relationship improved.

"The cool ambience (between the two nations) will exist for a long time," said Zhou Shijian, a senior economist at the Center for China-US Relations.

Yuan Peng, a US scholar at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, also said the high-level visits were aimed at preparing for a number of exchanges, including a US visit by President Hu Jintao, a possible leadership meeting alongside the UN Assembly in September, the G20 Seoul Summit and APEC Summit.

Ma Liyao and Zhou Wa contributed to this story.

By Wu Jiao and He Wei,China Daily


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