A time to set a new example for the status quo?
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Time to rebuild China-US trust
Source – Straits Times, published May 27, 2013
SUSPICION has overtaken trust in Sino-American ties in recent months for the summit between President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama on June 7 and 8 to assume greater than usual significance. The two leaders will have a face-to-face chance to clear the air over such frictions as North Korean nuclear arms, East and South China Sea island disputes, cyber-hacking and trade issues.
It is good that they are meeting a few months earlier than planned. Before intervening distractions arise, it would be helpful if the two leaders are able to deepen their personal rapport in the relaxed ambience of the Californian venue. It is important to set the right tone for cooperation as regional if not global stability rides very much on how these powers, the world’s two largest economies, conduct their relations.
Beyond immediate trouble-shooting, Mr Xi and Mr Obama can and should help their countries’ ties mature. The two sides have dozens of mechanisms for communication and cooperation at various levels, including the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. They certainly should, as Mr Xi suggests, make the most of these, but there is nothing like a summit to reset the way the leaders view and deal with each other.
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Mr Xi may propose an approach that includes sharing global leadership and a gradual end to regional alliances. This may call into question existing American arrangements with allies and, in particular, Mr Obama’s pivot towards Asia that depends on such arrangements.
Some serious consideration should be given to whether the alliance-based system has become as obsolete as the Cold War. Global shifts call for a new long-term perspective which is nowhere more urgently needed than in north-east Asia, where Chinese and American interests overlap, along with those of their respective allies, North Korea and Japan.
A new relationship model can help ease American angst about Chinese influence over North Korea and China’s fear of untoward consequences should it bring Pyongyang under ultimate pressure. Similarly, tension over China’s Diaoyu/Senkaku claim can be lowered if Sino-US ties are placed on a more balanced footing.
The United States will continue to play an important role in the region, alongside China’s expansion of its global role. Both sides can make more progress through cooperation rather than confrontation. This in turn depends very much on whether Mr Xi and Mr Obama succeed in building trust when they meet.