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Will Biden's visit turn a new leaf for China-U.S. ties?

(Xinhua)

08:12, August 17, 2011

BEIJING, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Under the shadow of U.S. debt and noises about arms sales to Taiwan, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit China from Aug. 17 to 22.

Chinese analysts expect Biden's China tour will add to the momentum started by President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States early this year.

During Hu's U.S. visit in January, both countries committed to building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and benefits to promote their common interests and to address the 21st century's opportunities and challenges.

Hu's visit to the United States got bilateral ties back on track and triggered a number of interactions between high-ranking officials from the world's two largest economies.

In April, Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong visited the United States and co-chaired with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the second annual high-level China-U.S. Consultation on People-to-People Exchange.

In May, the third round of the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Washington, attended by Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, among other senior government officials from both sides.

And then General Chen Bingde, chief of the Chinese People's Liberation Army General Staff and U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made reciprocal visits respectively to each other's countries in May and July.

"Leaders of the two nations have attached more importance and made more efforts to manage the bilateral ties between China and the United States," said Ni Feng, a scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, adding that the frequent interactions helped prevent the disputes between the two countries from escalating and destroying the bilateral ties.

U.S. DEBT, ARMS SALES LIKELY ON AGENDA

Now, the question is: will Biden's six-day official visit to China erect a seawall for bilateral ties so they can't be badly impacted by the looming election campaign in the United States?

History shows that China-related issues are easy targets for U.S. politicians from both political parties and the bilateral relationship tends to fall prey to their mud-slinging.

The issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is a tool often used by some lawmakers to make noises and catch attention.

The 2012 general election will likely be no exception. Some U.S. lawmakers have already started lobbying and pressuring the Obama administration to sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. Media reports say that the U.S. government will announce its decision by Oct. 1.

"As a renowned U.S. statesman, Biden is clear about the Taiwan issue as well as the bilateral ties between China and the United States," said Yuan Peng, a scholar with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Biden was elected as senator for the first time in 1972 and has visited China in 1979 and 2001.

Biden will arrive in Beijing on Wednesday, coincidentally the 29th anniversary of signing of the "August 17 Communique." In the communique inked on Aug. 17, 1982 between China and the United States, the U.S. side states that it "does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan" and "intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final resolution."

The United States should eliminate the issue of arms sales to Taiwan that hinders the development of the China-U.S. relations, said Liu Qing, a scholar with the China Institute of International Studies.

"The world situation and the relationship between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have changed profoundly," Liu said. "So the United States needs to get rid of its outdated cold-war mentality and take into consideration the overall situation of the bilateral ties."

Another anticipated hot topic during Biden's China visit is the safety of China's assets in the U.S. dollar.

Earlier this month, Standard & Poor's removed the AAA long-term sovereign credit rating for the United States and lowered it one notch to AA+.

Among China's more than 3 trillion dollars foreign exchange reserves, 1.16 trillion dollars were U.S. Treasuries bonds as of May, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

"If the greenback devalues by 10 percent to 20 percent, China will suffer another loss of as much as 200 billion to 300 billion dollars in the near future," according to Chen Xiankui, a professor at Renmin University of China.

MUTUAL TRUST NEEDED TO IMPROVE BILATERAL TIES

Apart from the two hot topics, the China-U.S. relationship has also been haunted by many other problems in recent years.

In Yuan's opinion, the fundamental reason for the off-and-on disputes between the two countries lies in the fact that the U.S. government has not found a way of treating China's development rationally.

"China and the United States are crossing a river in the same boat," Liu said, quoting Hillary Clinton.

"The biggest question for the two nations currently is how to boost strategic trust in each other," he said.

As China makes it plain that it has no intention of challenging the United States' status in the world, Washington should in return respect Beijing's core interests as well, Liu said.

Scholars believe that Biden's visit presents a good opportunity since the vice president is anticipated to play a more important role in formulating of U.S. foreign policy in the coming years if Obama wins the 2012 general election.

President Obama will be busy with domestic affairs and Clinton has told the press that she would not seek another term as the top U.S. diplomat if Obama is re-elected, Yuan Peng said.

Biden will have more say in U.S. decision-making when handling China-related issues, and his visit this time is much more than a courtesy call, said Yuan.

"His visit not only helps consolidate the achievements made over the past months on the bilateral ties and lessen the impact of the U.S. general election, but also provides a new opportunity for the two countries to stabilize the China-U.S. relationship in a long term," he added.

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