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Reset the formula for Sino-US "Partnership and Cooperation"

09:40, January 21, 2011

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By Li Hongmei

Chinese President Hu Jintao's 4-day Washington visit has been running headlines these days for both Chinese and American media and, any move of the both leaders could raise high attention of any capital on the planet. The White House dinner hosting the visiting Chinese leader is already interpreted by the politics-savvy observers as the US-style Dinner Diplomacy in exchange for a thawed relationship with Beijing after the all-year-long chill.

Apart from the reasons known to all that have marred the bilateral ties, such as American arms sales to Taiwan, coupled with a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, severing the bilateral military exchanges for eight months, currency squabbles and America's move to reclaim influence in the Asia-Pacific region creating an intense face-off, analysts also remark a fast-changing external environment and a lack of trust are actually two main reasons for the fragile nature of the relationship.

"This is not a relationship that fits neatly into the black and white categories like friend or rival. We are two complex nations with very different histories, with profoundly different political systems and outlooks," as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was cited in a recent speech.

Admittedly, even today, many Americans are still wary of a rapidly rising China because of ideological legacies and differences in values and political systems, even though President Hu recently called for both sides to abandon the "Zero-sum Cold War mentality" in his written response to an interview with American media; Meanwhile, the Chinese public also raise alert on seeing the US getting closer to South Korea, Japan, and China's other neighbors in the Pacific, reminiscent of the bygone days when China was encircled and contained by foreign forces.

The grand reception ceremony in honor of the Chinese President is viewed by the "face-loving" Chinese public as a symbol of a burgeoning Chinese national dignity, and buzzed by the Chinese media as a loud and clear message from Washington that U.S. and China are finally standing at the equal footing as "partners." But many also doubt whether a full state banquet, a 21-gun salute and all the pomp and circumstance of a review of the troops really mean the world's two leading powers meeting together as equals.

In terms of economic development, China is catching up fast with the U.S., and may have by estimates overtaken the US at some point over the past year. Militarily, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the biggest on earth: 2.2 million soldiers compared to the 1.6 million of the US armed forces. On the global stage, China has also become a giant too, lending more to developing countries over the past two years than even the World Bank, according to the Financial Times.

But those big figures can not twist the fact that America is a rich country, while in terms of per capita GDP, China is still grindingly poor and lagging behind over 100 countries. And when it comes to the military might and combat capabilities, US forces are far better equipped, better trained and more powerful than the PLA. By the ultimate yardstick for superpower status---nuclear weapons, the US also far outstrips China in both stockpiles and number of warheads.

Perhaps, what renders China equal footing with the US is its dynamism. While Hu-Obama Summit is going on in Washington at the time, it is still hard to predict who will take the wind out of whose sails.

Professor Sun Zhe , from Tsinghua University, said the general theme of Hu-Obama Summit would be "technology for currency", which means the US might relax export controls on hi-tech products in exchange for more promises on currency reform.

Also, some Chinese experts observe the historic meet would bring progress to other areas, say, the US will be moving towards the acknowledgment of China's market economy status, and more and further co-operation on climate change and energy efficiency.

Professor David Shambaugh, from George Washington University, said in a commentary, "The best thing the summit can accomplish is to look back and revitalize the visionary joint statement reached in November 2009, and to look forward and establish tangible intergovernmental mechanisms to operate year-round to implement that vision."

In a nutshell, both will reach out to each other to reset "partnership" for future and enhance cooperation for the benefit of either side; and steer clear of confrontation and conflict, given the fact that the turbulent 2010 cannot afford to trace its way into the just unfolded 2011.

The US national security adviser during the Carter administration, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has called the summit "the most important top-level United States-Chinese encounter since Deng Xiaoping's historic trip more than 30 years ago". It is high time to define a relationship that "does justice to the global promise of constructive cooperation".

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."