Opinion / Chen Weihua

More communication brings understanding

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-12 07:42

For people concerned that the broad China-US relationship has been hijacked recently by an excessive focus on the South China Sea and cyber security, two events in Washington this week offered welcome relief.

In a talk on Asia-Pacific economic integration at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, Zhang Jianping, who leads a National Development and Reform Commission think tank, said China is pleased to see the 12 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement reach consensus. He described the TPP as one of possible passages to the Free Trade Area of Asia Pacific, which China promoted at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last November.

Zhang was straightforward in saying that countries such as China and Indonesia may not be ready for the TPP, whose membership requirements are well beyond their development stages. There was no talk about a US conspiracy theory to cut China out of the Asia supply chain as argued by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate in economics, and many Chinese experts.

Zhang also extended welcoming arm to the US and Japan to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

While Zhang's words sounded a different note to those who think the TPP is a geopolitical game being played by the US, Kurt Tong, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the State Department, also provided a change of tune when he said the US is excited about the prospect of the AIIB. He said it is a good thing that China is providing development capital to the region.

It is true that geopolitics might have played a role in the envisioning of the AIIB and the TPP, and that China and the US may still not see eye-to-eye on the two arrangements, but it seems that neither of them wants to be involved in a lose-lose game.

In this sense, Zhang and Tong have sent a clear message that the two nations are looking to work together despite their differences. It would be great if that kind of message could be reinforced by the two nations' top leaders, not just when they convene for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington later this month or during President Xi Jinping's state visit to the US this fall, but on a more frequent basis.

The clamor about relations between the two countries will reach a crescendo when the 2016 US presidential race goes into full swing late this year. But much of that noise will be the result of ignorance or the lack of mutual understanding.

That is why the US-China Working Group at the House of Representatives, which marked its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, is so admirable. It was launched 10 years ago by Congressmen Rick Larsen from Washington and Mark Kirk from Illinois in a bid to educate US congressmen about China. I still remember interviewing both of them in the US Consulate in Shanghai in 2006 when they made the first visit to China on behalf of the working group.

Kirk, who later became a Senator, helped launch a working group in the Senate in 2013.

Despite the good efforts of the two working groups, there is still a huge gap to fill if US Congressmen, especially freshmen, are to have a nuanced understanding of China and the bilateral relationship.

That could also be true when Chinese Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Fan Changlong meets with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Thursday, or when Xi meets US President Barack Obama in Washington this fall.

What has proved effective in the past decade is that more engagement can help the two countries better tap the potential of cooperation and reduce the risk of confrontation. That is something both should strive for.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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