Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

US, China need to control differences

By Wang Fan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-26 08:15

US, China need to control differences

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during the APEC Welcome Banquet at the Beijing National Aquatics Center, or the Water Cube, in Beijing on Nov 10, 2014. Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

"Seeking common ground while putting aside differences", a famous quote of former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai is the long-time guiding principle of China's diplomacy. It helped China resume diplomatic relations with the United States despite the Cold War.

The development of Sino-US relations over the past three decades has proved the importance of common ground. The relationship grows when the two share more in common, while disputes rise due to lack of shared interests. That's why the top leaders from both sides have repeatedly in their speeches emphasized enlarging common interests.

From the 1980s to the early 21st century, China and the US have also chosen to lay aside some of their differences, such as on Taiwan, to prevent them from undermining bilateral ties.

However, with bilateral interactions becoming more frequent, not only has more common ground been found, more differences have also emerged. This is logical because the more the two partners understand each other the more differences they recognize. More importantly, though, some of the differences can no longer be put aside as the two face direct conflicts of interests.

For example, the US is an ally of some of the countries involved in territorial disputes with China. The competition for regional even global leadership is also growing as the power gap both countries narrows. It is impossible for either side to pretend such conflicts do not exist. They will not be eliminated either, because they are linked with core interests or values.

Concerning their ideological differences, for example, the best way to put them aside is for neither side to consider the other's ideology harmful or try to impose its ideology upon the other. That has been the trend in recent years, with many US scholars prompting their government to respect China's chosen system; we expect US decision-makers to better absorb these scholars suggestion in the future.

It is easy for both to learn each other's language, but difficult to understand each other's way of thinking.

A good example is Edgar Snow being invited by then Chinese leader Mao Zedong to step on Tiananmen gate tower on Oct 1, China's National Day, in 1970. Documents show by doing so the Chinese leaders hoped to send a signal to their US counterparts about their willingness to improve the relationship, but the invitation was not understood by US leaders; it was two years later that the ice between the two nations first broke. Similarly, Chinese officials and scholars tend to equate US scholars' opinions to those of the US government, thus responding in an inappropriate manner.

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