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Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Interaction, not confrontation

By Chen Xiangyang (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-30 07:53

Start of new political cycle in November will determine direction of ties between the world's top two economies

Two days after the US presidential election on Nov 6, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is due to convene in Beijing, ushering in a new central collective leadership that will guide China's national rejuvenation and peaceful development in the coming years.

This will be the start of a new political cycle that will be of tremendous global importance, as the evolution of bilateral relations will to a considerable extent determine the pace of the world's economic recovery, the response to global issues, and whether there is peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unfortunately, China-US relations have been hijacked recently by the irresponsible campaigning of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Both of whom have tried to convince voters that the blame for the US' woes should be placed at China's door, and that by getting tough with China they will soon be able to inject some vigor into the ailing US economy. Romney has repeatedly clamored that on his first day in office he will label China a currency manipulator and made groundless accusations that China steals American patents, product designs and intellectual property rights, does not comply with international rules and engages in unfair trade practices. Obama, not to be outdone, has constantly declared that he has imposed unprecedented trade pressure on China, and repeatedly boasted that the number of trade cases launched against China has doubled under his administration. Such rhetoric seeks to divert attention from the fact that China's rise has been good for the US and that the US' troubles are very much of its own making.

China and the US are entering a period of both competition and cooperation. But it is a time of uncertainties, because of the strategic adjustment of the US government, which is trying to balance its policies in the Middle East and its geostrategic shift to the Asia-Pacific. So even if Barack Obama wins a second term, it will not be business as usual.

There are three trends that can be foreseen as having a strong influence on the relations. How they are handled will to a large degree shape relationship between the two countries. First the relationship between the US and China is tending toward increased interaction, which is a new trend in relations between big powers. Nurturing positive interaction and promoting greater cooperation is in the interests of both countries. The US needs to realize that a Cold War mentality and zero-sum game mentality are no longer relevant as the world has changed. Second, the US' pursuit of hegemony will continue and its power politics to achieve this will have a negative influence on relations, especially as "third parties", especially countries, such as Japan and the Philippines, that have territorial disputes with China will try to take advantage of the competitive situation between China and the US to counter the rise of China. The US' surrounding geopolitical environment is particularly favorable in this respect, as it has few neighbors and they are weaker than it, so the US has more energy to act as the "world's policeman". China on the other hand has many neighboring countries, some of which are strong. Border and maritime territorial disputes left over by history force China to spend a considerable part of its energy on maintaining relations with neighboring countries.

Third, although China's gross domestic product is expected to surpass that of the US in the next decade, China will continue to lag far behind the US in comprehensive strength. In addition, the US is also significantly ahead of China in many areas, such as its sustainable development capability, scientific and technological innovation, financial strength, and cultural soft power. Even so, in the face of China's catching up in these areas, the US is bound to resort to extreme measures to guard against and constrain China's development.

Therefore, the two sides need to carefully steer bilateral relations in the direction of cooperation rather than conflict.

The author is deputy director of World Politics Research Institute, affiliated to the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily 10/30/2012 page8)

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