China, U.S. search for common ground
Chinese leader Hu Jintao and U.S. President Barack Obama are searching for common ground as they seek ways to improve relations between their countries, according to officials, analysts, business executives and political observers.
Officials said that despite thorny disagreements ranging from maritime rights in the South China Sea to the value of the yuan, what was notable at the leaders’ last bilateral encounter during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu was how both emphasized the constructive nature of their talks.
At times, sharp differences were aired during the meeting between Hu and Obama. But the candor of that bilateral meeting did not detract from the central message U.S. officials are sending: That they view China not as an adversary, but as a potential partner on a wide range of important political and economic issues.
The two leaders hashed out a number of crucial topics during their formal bilateral discussion, White House aides said. Among them:
• Containing nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.
• Establishing clear maritime rights in the South China Sea, which is a crucial commercial shipping lane thought to contain valuable oil and minerals.
• Working out the future of U.S. military forces in Japan.
In November, right after the Honolulu summit, President Obama took a 10-day tour through Asia, a trip which featured stops in China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
During the summit and throughout his Asian journey, Obama stressed the importance of China in sharing responsibility for the region’s future. He also praised the Chinese on several occasions.
“We welcome a rising, peaceful China,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. “What they have been able to achieve, in terms of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last two decades, has been nothing short of remarkable. And that is good -- not just for China but potentially good for the region.”
Obama urged China to appreciate that its rise comes with increased responsibilities.
“It’s important for them to play by the rules of the road and in fact help underwrite the rules that have allowed so much remarkable economic progress to be made over the last several decades. Where China is playing by those rules, recognizing its new role, I think this is a win-win situation,” he said.
David Cunningham, president of FedEx’s Asia-Pacific division, said the summit provided an opportunity for the governments to identify “what’s important to facilitate trade, and to move economies along.”
“The most important thing is the dialogue,” Cunningham said.
The robust language during the meetings went both ways. Chinese leaders warned against interference by “external forces” in the maritime dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea, where several regional nations have competing claims.
On the issue of trade rules, Chinese officials said they would not abide by international economic decrees that China had no part in writing.
“If the rules are made collectively through agreement and China is a part of it, then China will abide by them. If rules are decided by one or even several countries (and China is not involved) China does not have the obligation to abide by that,” said Pang Sen, a deputy director-general at China’s Foreign Ministry.
Still, diplomats and Asia observers said the tone of public remarks made by Chinese and U.S. leaders suggests a possible breakthrough in the relationship between the two nations.
In remarks to the press, Hu insisted it is “all the more important” for China to develop communication and coordination with the United States amid “complicated world situations.” Hu said the Asia-Pacific region, which he described as the greatest potential for development in the world, should be an important area for active Sino-US cooperation.
In the run-up to the summit, Obama and White House aides stressed that they look upon China not as an adversary but as a potential partner -- a recognition of the importance they believe the Asia-Pacific will play in the future.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that in the 21st century, the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
The summit came as Obama is seeking a broad reorientation of U.S. power worldwide, one likely to quicken as the American military withdraws from Iraq and, in 2014, from Afghanistan. That reorientation brings the Asian-Pacific into major focus, said White House aides.
The reorientation also involves beefing up the U.S. partnership with India, renewing military ties with the Philippines and other Asian nations, and promoting a trans-Pacific trade partnership that could include China. Beijing would have to agree to tougher labor, intellectual property, and environmental rules.
Obama said U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is “absolutely critical” to America’s prosperity. Expanded trade with the world’s fastest-growing region would help the U.S. create jobs, he said.
Richard C. Bush III, director o of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said Beijing and Washington see some of their interests converging.
“The major challenges facing the international system cannot be addressed by the United States alone [and they cannot be successfully managed without U.S. and Chinese involvement],” he wrote recently.
Difficulties remain, Bush said.
“But that is not a reason to give up. China does have overlapping interests with the United States, Japan, and the European Union on many issues,” Bush said.
The dialogue appears to already be bearing fruit. At the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific summit in Hawaii, the United States, China and Russia made clear they are united on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“All three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don't trigger a nuclear arms race in region,” Obama said.