Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Xi building bridges on global tour

By Harvey Dzodin (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-25 08:27

I was shocked the other day to see this headline in a Canadian newspaper: "The good news from Xi Jinping's world tour was that there was no news". On the contrary, any thoughtful observer can see that the trip was not only successful as a confidence-building exercise, but also important on many other levels. The trip cements a firm foundation for future relations in North America, the European Union and with Turkey, the Middle East's ascendant power.

While I have not seen any public opinion polling data from the US, Ireland or Turkey, reflecting attitudinal changes during the visit, one can confidently predict that China's "favorables" will rise noticeably in those three countries, as well as in others.

I was happy to see Vice-President Xi and the leaders of all three countries agreeing on the need for enhanced person-to-person contacts and cultural exchanges. I was especially happy that the US initiative to get 100,000 American students studying in China was given special emphasis.

China's vice-president came across as personable, intelligent and down-to-earth. His return to visit friends in Muscatine, Iowa after 27 years was especially touching. He spoke warmly about areas of agreement and cooperation but did not hesitate to point out areas of disagreement that require future negotiations and discussions.

To me, the most important public discussion was about the Pacific region and future bilateral relations. President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden said, "America is a Pacific country". I thought this was an interesting choice of an ambiguous word. "Pacific" means peaceful. It also describes a large region in and along the Pacific Ocean. In my view, the two American leaders were conveying the idea that ours is a peaceful country but that the US has a national interest in the region, but not necessarily to dominate or to contain China or any other country.

Vice-President Xi said, "the vast Pacific Ocean has ample space for China and the US". My takeaway is that this is a clear pronouncement that China does not see the Pacific region as its exclusive sphere of influence to the exclusion of the US. I believe the vice-president also meant that China has a role in the region and will not tolerate attempts to diminish it.

Interestingly, Xi pointed out that China-US relations "are without precedent and without the guide of prior experiences" and that we must "cut paths across the mountains and build bridges across the rivers". I believe he was saying that there is no historical precedent for a major power and an ascendant one to work together. I believe he was saying that both powers working together is a precondition to promote regional and global peace and stability going forward into the future.

The visit to the US is a logical one and has a historical precedent. The other two choices for visits may rightly have some people wondering.

In Ireland, even some locals asked: Why us? One reason could have been that Ireland will occupy the EU presidency next year. Another purpose could relate to the example that Ireland set, when confronted by the painful realities of overcoming the economic crisis. Going to an EU country and personally underscoring China's support for Europe's economy and the euro has instilled a high degree of comfort for the struggling eurozone countries and the entire European Union.

Why Turkey? Once a noble empire, Turkey is now an example of enlightened rule and relative economic and political stability in a region that has precious little of either. Turkey, one of Syria's staunchest former allies, has played a major role in the efforts to end the ongoing tragedy in the country. During Xi's visit both sides had an opportunity to share concurring and differing opinions on how to end the bloodshed and instability in Turkey's neighbor. Another reason that ties the nations together is the fate of China's Uygur ethnic people in Xinjiang. Both sides have an interest in ensuring that these people share in the Chinese economic miracle, as well as ensuring the country's peace and stability.

Rather than being much ado about nothing, Vice-President Xi's trip was a success. A strong foundation has been laid for the future.

The author is a senior advisor to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.

(China Daily 02/25/2012 page5)

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