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U.S.-China relations shifting

November 26, 2009

The Japan Times
November 26, 2009

Observers analyzing the visit of U.S. President
Barack Obama to China, not unnaturally, looked
for signs of a shift in the world balance of power — and they found them.

For one thing, the American leader was noticeably
respectful of his Chinese hosts and did not
attempt to lecture them, at least not in public
and probably not in private as well.

And the Chinese side finally got what it had
wanted for 30 years -- being treated as an equal by the United States.

Of course, the shift in the balance of power does
not mean that China is going to replace the U.S.
as a global hegemon. It does mean, however, that
China will play a much bigger role in world affairs.

During the Bush administration, Beijing was told
that it had to learn to be a responsible
stakeholder. Now, it is learning that it has to
pay a price for a bigger voice in world affairs —
the assumption of additional responsibilities.
Power and responsibility go together.

A joint statement issued by the two countries
shows the extent to which they now share a common
world view. They reviewed global issues from the
Middle East to South Asia, from the global economic recovery to climate change.

Each acknowledged the right, indeed the
responsibility, of the other to deal with global
issues. "The two sides noted that, at a time when
the international environment is undergoing
complex and profound changes, the U.S. and China
share a responsibility to cooperatively address
regional and global security challenges," they said.

In the joint statement, the U.S. "welcomes a
strong, prosperous and successful China that
plays a greater role in world affairs,"
addressing China's concerns of American attempts to frustrate its rise.

On its part, China declared that it "welcomes the
U.S. as an Asia-Pacific nation that contributes
to peace, stability and prosperity in the
region," thus ameliorating American fears that a
rising China would attempt to squeeze it out of the region.

In this emerging world order, both the U.S. and
China will have to make adjustments. Washington,
known for its predilections for unilateralism,
will have to pay greater heed to the interests of China and other countries.

And China will have to play a global leadership
role to which it is unaccustomed.

The late leader Deng Xiaoping warned his
successors to keep a low profile and never take
the lead, and China largely hewed to this course
over the last two decades. But as the country has
grown to become the world's third-largest economy
— soon to become the second-largest after
overtaking Japan — it will have to come to terms with an unaccustomed new role.

In this new role, it will be difficult for China
to be a follower in the international community,
going along with majority views. Indeed, China
will have to moderate its oft-stated policy of
noninterference in other countries' internal affairs.

This is implied in the joint statement, where the
two countries agree that they "share increasingly
important common responsibilities of major issues
concerning global stability and prosperity" and
agree to "work together to tackle challenges, and
promote world peace, security and prosperity."

America's and China's interests are now so
intertwined that each acknowledges the right of
the other to be involved in its economic affairs
since what one country does will affect the other.

Thus, to reassure China that its investments are
safe, the U.S. promised to "take measures to
increase national saving as a share of GDP and
promote sustainable noninflationary growth" and
return the "federal budget deficit to a
sustainable path and pursuing measures to encourage private saving."

And China promised to "continue to implement the
policies to adjust economic structure, raise
household incomes, expand domestic demand to
increase contribution of consumption to GDP
growth and reform its social security system."

So what we have now is a framework for a
bilateral relationship in which each sees the other as a partner.

What remains now is to build political trust,
which is clearly still lacking. While both
countries say they are committed to building a
positive, cooperative and comprehensive
relationship in the 21st century, old problems
such as Taiwan, Tibet and human rights are as
intractable as ever while new problems are bound to emerge.

It will not be easy for this new partnership to
work. But if it doesn't, then the outlook for the
resolution of world issues in the 21st century will be bleak.

* Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong.
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