China-US relations strong but need work

Updated: 2012-02-13 13:02

By Chen Weihua and Fu Jing (China Daily)

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WASHINGTON DC / BRUSSELS - The 40th anniversary of former US president Richard Nixon's historic trip to China is only a week away on Feb 21. Yet Brent Scowcroft celebrated his part in it six weeks ago.

A member of the advance team sent to prepare for Nixon's trip, Scowcroft landed in Beijing on New Year's Day, 1972.

Having served in three administrations and witnessed the ups and downs of the bilateral relationship, the 86-year-old firmly believes that the US policy on China is one of the most successful American foreign policies of the past 40 years.

Scowcroft is expected to meet Xi during a meeting shortly after his arrival on Monday. Former US senior government officials, including Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeleine Albright and Henry Paulson will also join the meeting.

"Since 1972, every American president, Republican or Democrat, some of them starting out with very different views of China, has come to the same conclusion that broadening and deepening the relationship with China is in the US national interest," said Scowcroft, who served as the National Security Adviser under President Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and later as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under George W. Bush.

In Scowcroft's eyes, that conclusion remains the same today despite the fact that China is very different from 1972.

"Now the world is more complicated and the relationship is more complicated. We have different perspectives, different history and different cultures, so we have a lot to do to understand each other," Scowcroft told China Daily.

"As China grows, our countries run into each other in more places and over more issues in the world. The world itself is getting more complex," he said.

The history of the US in the past 100 years is also very different from the history of China in that period, and that gives the two peoples different psychological perspectives on the world and how to behave, according to Scowcroft.

The retired Lieutenant General does not believe that the US and China have fundamental problems and irreconcilable differences. He believes the best way to address differences is to have sincere discussions on major issues affecting the world and find out each other's views on them.

"Then we will identify places where our interests are common, where we don't know and where they differ, and if they differ, how to reconcile these differences. I think that's the way we should proceed," he said.

To Scowcroft, the US and China don't have to agree on everything in order to have a good and solid relationship. "Understanding is the important thing, not agreeing," he said.

"And that is one of the reasons why I think Vice-President Xi Jinping's visit is so important," he added.

Pierre Defraigne, executive director of the Brussels-based think tank The Madariaga - College of Europe Foundation, told China Daily that the visit of the Chinese vice president to the US represents a major event in China-US relations.

Although the trip appears to be a routine first meeting between leaders, it would help the two powers to "lower the temperature" of numerous ongoing conflicts in their relationship, Defraigne said.

Tao Wenzhao, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Xi's expected visit to Pentagon is of crucial importance as it will give both sides a good chance to "greater clarify their own strategic priorities".

"The mutual lack of trust is most evident in defense affairs," said Tao.

With his vast experience in the US military and national security matters, Scowcroft also applauds Xi's planned visit to Pentagon.

"Diplomats understand each other and business people understand each other much better than our two militaries," he said.

The weaker military aspect of the relationship is "placing limits" on the overall development of China-US relations, Tao claimed.

"That is not good because it's easy to demonize someone you don't know. That's why I think military-to-military discussions are very important to reduce friction," Scowcroft said.

To Scowcroft, confrontation will happen mostly through misunderstanding and misinterpretation of motives. That is why he believes the more the two countries understand one another, the more they can reduce the possibility of a crisis developing.

Scowcroft dismisses the notion of a zero-sum game being played between the two countries.

"In my view, it's simply not right for people to think that gains in China mean deficits for the US and gains in the US are deficits for China," said Scowcroft, adding that, despite all the challenges, he remains optimistic about the relationship.

He said he hopes China will play a more active role in world affairs, whether or not they directly affect China's interests.

Having assisted President Obama in choosing his national security team, Scowcroft describes the current administration's China policy as "generally successful and going reasonably well", noting that both countries have their own national policies and public opinion to worry about.

"We have to get beyond those and look fundamentally at what it takes to understand each other better in order for us to work together more closely," he said.

Zhang Yunbi in Beijing contributed to this story.