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Trump's letter sends a positive message | Updated: 2017-02-09 19:09

President Xi Jinping received a letter from Donald Trump on Wednesday, in which the US President said he looked forward to working with the Chinese leader "to develop a constructive relationship" that benefits both countries.

The letter conveys the reassuring message that bilateral relations are still on the right track despite the speculation that has arisen with Trump's victory in the November election, and his breaking of long-held norms and practice that used to guide bilateral ties - on Taiwan, the South China Sea and trade.

Fueling the tensions has been the belligerent attitude of some of the members of the Trump administration, which has increased concerns that a military confrontation is in the cards. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for instance, has suggested China's access to its islands in the South China Sea might be blocked, while Steve Bannon, the chief strategist in Trump's team, said he believed that the US would go to war with China within five to 10 years during a radio broadcast last year.

Against this backdrop, the letter, though terse and issued nearly three weeks after Trump's inauguration, is still a positive signal, as it suggests that reason still prevails in the White House. Although it is still too early to conclude Trump no longer seeks to antagonize China, this show of goodwill will to some extent minimize the possibility of antagonistic rhetoric being turned into policies or actions that will set the two giants on a collision course.

China consistently holds that cooperation, rather than confrontation, is the only choice for the two countries, and that both should try to manage and control the disputes and sensitive problems that exist between them.

The fact that their shared interests far outweigh their differences determines that if there is a clash between them, "both will lose and both cannot afford that", as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier this week during a visit to Australia.

The US seems to echo this sentiment. US Defense Secretary James Mattis, during a visit to Japan last week, emphasized the importance of giving diplomacy priority in solving the disputes in the South China Sea, raising hopes that the sea will not necessarily become a flashpoint for conflict.

In his letter, Trump also wished the Chinese people a happy Lantern Festival and prosperous Year of the Rooster. This may help to end speculation that Trump made an intentional slight by being the only US president in recent years not to have sent greetings at the Chinese Lunar New Year.

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