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Phone call could be beginning of change in Sino-US ties

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-05 07:40

The phone talk between President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump on Thursday was probably the most positive signal in the past months in China-US relations haunted by tit-for-tat tariff retaliations and concerns over a new Cold War.

That they agreed to hold a meeting at the end of this month in Argentina on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit is another positive signal. And the teams from the two sides will be working hard in the coming weeks to pave the way for a successful meeting.

Despite Trump's China bashing rhetoric during his presidential campaign, the bilateral relationship started unexpectedly well during the first year of the Trump administration when the two leaders met in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, in April last year and again during Trump's state visit to Beijing last November.

But that amicable relationship took a steep downturn when the US singled out China as a revisionist power in its National Security Strategy last December and followed it up by a series of unilateral and hawkish moves against China, including punitive tariffs on imports from China, restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and hostile speeches on China such as the one made by Vice-President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute on Oct 4.

Fear-mongering about China, including the Chinese news media operating in the US, the 300,000-plus Chinese students studying in US universities and colleges and various academic and cultural exchanges between the two countries, has resurged drastically.

The United States has also flirted with China's core national interests. The US Congress passed the provocative Taiwan Travel Act signed by Trump on March 16 this year. The US also threatened Latin American and African countries which sever "diplomatic ties" with Taiwan to establish formal relations with Beijing.

The dramatic turnabout in Sino-US relations on multiple fronts has triggered deep concern over whether the world's existing power and the rising power are heading into a new Cold War or Thucydides Trap, as Harvard University scholar Graham Allison has warned.

It is no secret that China and the US have major differences. And many of those differences will probably remain for a long time to come. No one, however, should deny that the two countries had far more differences and disagreements back in 1972 when US President Richard Nixon made the historic trip to China and in 1979 when the two countries established diplomatic ties. Yet the leaders of the two countries showed their wisdom by pursuing a path of expanding cooperation and managing and narrowing differences.

There is no doubt that the more than four decades of active engagement and cooperation have brought huge benefits for the two nations and their peoples, and made the world a safer place, if we recall the extreme hostile relations back in the 1960s and especially the early 1950s when the two countries fought in the bloody Korean War.

As philosopher George Santayana said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The history of China-US relations serves as a warning for those who advocate a decoupling of the two economies, trigger an arms race and other confrontational approaches.

Tackling the thorny issues between China and the US won't be easy. That is exactly why the two countries should work even harder on those issues through dialogues instead of confrontation. There is no better alternative.

China and the US shoulder a great responsibility in tackling critical global issues, such as epidemic disease, climate change, peacekeeping and global governance.

Let's hope that the upcoming meeting between Xi and Trump will help reverse the course of the past months.

The author is a columnist at China Daily.

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