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Help get relations right

Updated: 2014-03-19 07:24
( China Daily)

He may have been overly optimistic in portraying relations between the United States and China as "friendship", but Max Baucus, the new US ambassador to China, hit the nail on the head when he said the two countries had to get their relationship right.

Despite all the rhetoric about a partnership, at the moment our countries are half-heartedly working together and endeavoring to build mutual trust because neither can afford to antagonize the other.

Ambassador Baucus' immediate predecessor, Gary Locke, didn't see much headway in improving bilateral ties, not because he didn't work hard. His less-than-impressive personal record in China was symptomatic of Washington's inability to adapt to a rapidly changing China.

Ambassador Baucus claims a long-running personal interest in China, having visited Beijing many times. However, that doesn't guarantee he will fare better. Which is why expectations aren't high.

Observers say Baucus has little experience of China, even less of diplomacy, and his expertise is largely confined to US trade policy.

However, the low expectations may actually be to his advantage. The close interdependence between Chinese and the US economies promises him a broad stage in Beijing. While his sponsoring of an un-enacted legislative proposal to punish China for "undervaluing" its currency may sound less than China-friendly, he will surely be embraced with gratitude here for championing this country's inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Baucus' willingness to work across party lines in the US Senate may also prove an asset. The notorious "trust deficit" between Beijing and Washington calls for serious trust-building efforts from both side, and his consensus-building expertise may make him an effective messenger between Beijing and Washington.

The Chinese leadership has proposed a new-type of relationship with the US, which Chinese President Xi Jinping encapsulated as "no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation". That proposal was received positively by Washington. Yet there is still no consensus on how to build such a relationship.

That, too, is where ambassador Baucus can contribute.

Trust-building will require long-term hard work. As a marathon enthusiast who once completed a 50-mile ultra-marathon, Baucus knows what each step means to reach the end of a protracted journey.

We wish him well in his new post, and hope his ambassadorship proves to be a significant step toward getting US-China relations right.