Op-Ed Contributors

What ails Sino-US relations

By Yan Xuetong (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-03 08:02
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Yan Xuetong is the director of Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies and an expert on Sino-US ties. Yan, who has a PhD from the University of Berkeley, California, shares his views on recent Sino-US disputes with China Daily's Fu Yu.

Question: Sino-US ties have suffered some setbacks this year, with disputes over trade, Google, the arms sales to Taiwan, US President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama and the recent military exercise between the US and Republic of Korea (ROK). Why?

Answer: After the Cold War, Sino-US relations have been on a rollercoaster ride. China-US ties have been unpredictable since the mid-1990s. That is the nature of the current Sino-US relationship, too.

Since the mid-1990s, Sino-US ties have been one of pseudo-friendship. While the two countries acknowledge each other as strategic partners, their common interests in developing such a partnership have been fewer than the conflicts between them. Their intentions to improve ties are always hindered by conflicts of interests.

In other words, though they are eager to improve bilateral ties, they find their relationship deteriorating because of conflicts of interests. Every time, bilateral ties suffer a setback, the two countries try more desperately to improve them, despite a lack of foundation.

Q: Where policy is concerned, China will always be the focus of the US administration. But during her recent visit to Asia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried all means to establish closer ties with India and Vietnam. On the other hand, some people in the US have accused China of trying to expand its influence over the South China Sea. What does it say about Sino-US ties?

A: The US is fully aware that its relationship with China is the most important bilateral relationship in the world . But just because it's the most important relationship doesn't mean they are necessarily on good terms. Because the ties are essential but not necessarily "good", the US feels the need to align itself with more neighbors of China to restrain it.

Since Bill Clinton's second term as US president, Washington has employed a dual policy toward China, namely cooperating with it on the trade and economic front while trying to contain it militarily. This policy has not changed during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The US may value its relationship with China, but that does not stop it from trying to restrain China.

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