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Top China expert Kenneth Lieberthal believes the country's leadership change in the past few months and the upcoming National People's Congress provide a great opportunity to improve Sino-US relations.
Lieberthal said the administration of US President Barack Obama is carefully considering how to develop a more stable and positive rapport with China. "And we hope that the Chinese leadership is doing the same in the other direction," said Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
In a recent letter to Obama, Lieberthal urged the US president to engage with Party leader Xi Jinping early on to establish a strong personal relationship, and suggested that Obama present to Xi an initiative that will enhance ties and advance the US position in Asia.
Lieberthal believes the two sides should work out a four-year framework for relations that establish a solid foundation of trust for the next one to two decades and enrich the Chinese leader's call for "a new type of major power relationship".
He suggested that leaders of the world's two largest economies meet at least four times a year for half-day summits, and not just for an hour on the margins of multilateral events.
In Lieberthal's view, the current Strategic and Economic Dialogue could be enhanced if it is repackaged into a sustained political and military dialogue, and a separate economic dialogue like the Strategic Economic Dialogue, which then-treasury secretary Henry Paulson led during the George W. Bush administration.
Lieberthal said US-China military-to-military relations lag far behind those of their civilian counterparts, and initiatives to improve that relationship are important.
Lieberthal said the Chinese People's Liberation Army interprets restrictions on its invitations to US military drills as hostility. "You can indicate the possibility you will use your waiver authority to permit PLA participation in various future US-organized military exercises," Lieberthal told Obama in the letter.
Acknowledging that maritime territorial disputes are increasing China's wariness about US strategy in the region, Lieberthal suggested Obama should clarify US principles to reduce Chinese suspicions.
He said Obama should state that the US will take no position on sovereignty in territorial disputes to which it is not a party; that the US supports a collective negotiation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and with China on a code of conduct in order to reduce the possible escalation of tension there, but does not seek Chinese talks with ASEAN as a whole on resolving territorial disputes; and that the US will adhere to its core principles of peaceful management of disputes, freedom of navigation and normal commercial access for American and other firms to maritime resources.
Lieberthal also suggested various initiatives to enhance economic cooperation, such as accelerating talks on a bilateral investment treaty; inviting China to engage on the Trans-Pacific Partnership when Beijing feels it is able to do so; and completing the technology export policy review, which can help US companies while also removing irritants in the countries' economic relations.
Lieberthal, who served as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asia at the National Security Council from 1998 to 2000, proposed that the US Commerce Department and US trade representative should set up a consultative arm to help Chinese companies understand US investment laws and regulations, and show US interest in working with China in clean energy and climate change.
He said he hopes that the Chinese leader will also put the same amount of effort into other issues, such as reducing tensions over maritime territorial disputes; having more extensive bilateral military engagements; discussing long-term strategic positions in Asia and the nuclear and missile programs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; opening additional areas of the Chinese economy to US investment; strengthening intellectual property protection; and tackling cyber-security threats and joint initiatives on climate change.
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