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No "playing smart" in positioning Sino-US relations

10:49, December 15, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

Sino-US relations this year witnessed a rocky start. The two countries have been thus far bickering over so many things and so bitterly that people can readily arrive at the conclusion that the relations between China and the U.S. are plummeting to the lowest.

The US media and policy wonks have long been busy creating fantasies about "China Threat," or "Dangers of a rising China." Viewed from their prism, China is determined to gain ascendancy up the global ladder and win spot light on the world stage by any means possible and in any form imaginable. From military and strategic ambitions to technological know-how, Beijing seems, at least in their eyes, ready to challenge the super power all-sidedly.

Admittedly, some Americans are already accustomed to the idea that US has preeminence over the globe, hence they can hardly imagine that China's anti-ship ballistic missiles could sink any U.S. warship venturing a thousand miles out in the Pacific. But some sober-headed Americans would tend to believe the fact that "the best way to turn China into an opponent is to treat it as one," as commented by Financial Times's John Gapper in his recent column.

In his view, what has happened in China over the past twenty-five years is "remarkable—a miracle, almost." And "rather than blasting the Chinese for failing to live up to standards of conduct that our forebears rarely met and lecturing them on the merits of a mythical free market, we should be congratulating them for the progress they have made, engaging with them," he said.

What he remarked is in actuality a fact that is increasingly looming clear ---- if China and US can face up to their conflicts of interests, they can lay a foundation for preventive cooperation. Otherwise, their respective policies can only cover up mutual differences, instead of stabilizing the relationship.

To wit, if the two sides want to expand the scope of cooperation, they have to expand their common interests instead of intensifying their conflicts. And meanwhile, they both should work toward preventing new conflicts from arising and keeping the existing ones from escalating.

Combing through the diplomatic history of the U.S., we will easily find that since the end of World War II, the US foreign policy has evolved from the peremptory "hegemony diplomacy", to the diplomacies of "hard power" and "soft power", till its current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trotted out the Trojan Horse of "smart power" diplomacy. The process can more or less reflect the dwindling strength of the once monolithic super power.

After the Cold War, Sino-US relations have been on a rollercoaster ride, and have all along been unpredictable since the mid-1990s. That is also the nature of the current Sino-US relationship, too.

No wonder some observers would describe China-US ties as one of pseudo-friendship, or "fair- weather friendship". While the two countries acknowledge each other as strategic partners, their common interests in developing such a partnership have been fewer than the conflicts between them. Their intentions to improve ties are always hindered by conflicts of interests, even when the ideological war is theoretically gone with the die-down of the Cold War.

Today the bilateral relations are stumbling into a state fraught with uncertainties and ambiguities. For example, the recent flurry of war games unfolded in the Pacific under the US leadership not only displays the U.S. eagerness to "come back" to the region but showcases the intention hidden behind the so-called "smart diplomacy"----trying to gain more while paying less, or reaping from others' fighting. More ideally, the super power would borrow others' hands to slap on China using North Korea's defiance as a plausible excuse.

However, if we look carefully and in a forward-looking manner into the value of China-US relations, they are actually more significant than they seem to be. Despite the ideological differences, in the backdrop of globalization and in the face of new challenges, the two countries are even working at nurturing common values, concepts and ideas. In times of financial crisis, for instance, they advocated the same-boat spirit, called for coordinated steps, and agreed to the bilateral consultations and dialogue.

Looking into the second decade of the century, the two great powers and peoples have more intertwined interests and closer exchanges. Increasing two-way trade, investment and communication mean the gradual removal of misconceptions and steady creation of more accommodating concepts. Moreover, the two great nations are gradually shaping their common stand on environmental protection, enhanced quality of life, low-carbon economy, and higher sense of responsibility as major powers in the world.

That explains why how to position the bilateral relationship is not merely pivotal to the sustainable development of both powers in the new decade, but will exert an enormous influence onto the buildup of a new world order. Neither of the countries can afford to derail even a bit off the course. By "smart power" as passionately advocated by Hillary Clinton on the U.S. foreign policy, the US is likely to skillfully head off confrontations, but is far from enough to start friendship.

As for Sino-US relations, the core is not diplomacy of smart skills, but down-to-earth way to deal with each other, and sincerity. The U.S. will have to abandon the Cold War mentality before reaching out to China. Just by so doing can some real sense of goodwill be cultivated.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."