The direction of Sino-US relations under Barack Obama's presidency is drawing increasing attention as the new US administration takes shape. The new president made remarks about China during his election campaign and wrote for the US Chamber of Commerce in China an article on the prospect of Sino-US ties in his term of office. In January, newly assigned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also deliberated on US foreign policy in a Senate hearing.
Obama acknowledges that common interests exist between China and the US and welcomes a rising China.
He realizes China's remarkable achievement in the past 30 years has driven economic development in neighboring nations and believes its emergence as a big power is irreversible and the US should cooperate to deal with emerging challenges.
The US and China have had effective and smooth cooperation on a wide range of economic and security issues, from anti-terror, nonproliferation and climate change to the restructuring of the extant international financial system. This is expected to be the new administration's mainstream China policy and dominate the future of Sino-US relations.
As multilateralism believers, both President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden advocate international cooperation instead of unilateral action to deal with international challenges and resolve disputes. Fruitful cooperation between China and the US on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue clearly indicates constructive bilateral and multilateral cooperation on sensitive issues can help ease strained regional situations. The new US administration has expressed its wishes to continue to promote a stable Korean Peninsula and to improve ties with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The new administration has also expressed expectations for cooperation with China on other international issues, such as the Iranian nuclear and Darfur challenges. China now plays a crucial role in the world's political landscape and we look forward to cooperative ties with it, Clinton recently said.
Ever-deepening economic and trade ties, as the cornerstone of bilateral relations, are expected to continue to develop during Obama's tenure. The ongoing financial crisis makes it necessary to expand Sino-US cooperation and create new fields and channels to push it forward.
However, worldwide crisis has also fueled trade protectionism. The Democratic Party-led US administration, which cares more about the opinions of labor unions, is expected to stress balanced trade and labor standards. It is opposed to any practices that possibly reduce job opportunities in the US manufacturing sector. Obama talked of the Sino-US trade imbalance and the yuan's exchange rate during his presidential election. This may usher in an increasing number of trade disputes with China. Due to increasing interdependence between the two sides, a fully fledged trade war, however, is very unlikely.
The Obama administration attaches great importance to the issues of energy, environment, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, thus posing opportunities together with challenges for bilateral ties.
During the previous administration, China and the US reached a series of consensuses in this regard within the established Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) framework. Such momentum is expected to enter an essential stage in the new US administration. During his presidential campaign, Obama put forward the indices for US greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the international community is discussing a new emission reduction standard in the post-Kyoto Protocol era. They make the Obama administration likely to join some others in urging China to lay out rigid targets for emissions reduction.
On the Taiwan question, Obama has expressed adherence to the one-China principle and to backing a peaceful settlement of sensitive issues. But he has also said his administration would continue to be committed to the Taiwan Relations Act, a Congressional bill aimed at maintaining the relations with the island. In a congratulatory letter to Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou after his success in contesting the island's leadership in March last year, the then Democratic Senator expressed his support for an improved cross-Straits relationship and trust building between the two sides. It is expected that the Obama administration will act in a cautious manner on the Taiwan question and not allow it to escalate into a prominent one in Sino-US relations.
Entering the new century, Sino-US relations have increasingly been conducted under a regular mechanism. This is expected to be carried forward into the new US administration. Also, new mechanisms are expected to be worked out to further promote mutual understanding and cooperation.
There are good reasons to anticipate a stable Sino-US relationship at this time of power transition in the US and anticipate strengthened constructive cooperation in the years ahead.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 02/17/2009 page8)