Opinion / Editorials

Reducing China-US distrust

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-15 07:26

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington that US Secretary of State John Kerry described the latest Chinese moves against Vietnamese provocations in the South China Sea as "provocative" during a telephone conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, however, denied hearing the word.

"US Secretary of State Kerry made no such comment during the phone conversation," Hua reportedly told Xinhua news agency. On the contrary, Kerry's message was that the United States does not take sides in the South China Sea dispute, and has no intention of making any judgment on the issue of territorial sovereignty, Xinhua said.

Psaki's and Hua's diverging accounts mean one of them misrepresented what was said. Such misrepresentation may affect whether or not Washington and Beijing can make informed judgments and decisions. To avoid misjudgments, Kerry and Wang may want to compare notes with their spokespersons and find out what went awry.

Fortunately, this has not triggered an excited exchange of mutual blame, and it has not prevented Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, General Fang Fenghui, from visiting the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego, California; reassuring signs that Beijing and Washington are reasonable enough to manage their differences.

While some have claimed Fang's tour of the US carrier is just an American tactic of deterrence, it would be better to take it as a precious gesture of goodwill between two militaries that have been watching each other warily.

That the two militaries are trying to mitigate suspicions and cultivate trust is good news not only for the two countries, but also for the Asia-Pacific and the world at large. If two anticipated documents - one on mutual notification of major military actions, the other on conduct in and above international waters - can be inked during Fang's visit, they would be a tremendous boost to crisis prevention.

There is no better way to reduce misperceptions and suspicions of each other than communicating more.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's recent visit to China and Fang's ongoing US trip reflect a shared interest in reducing distrust, if not trust-building.

That is about the only way to foster between Beijing and Washington a consensus that they do not have to be enemies.

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