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Less Than Meets The Eye

Author: Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies
August 6, 2013
Indian Express


Another Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) between the United States and China has come and gone,leaving few accomplishments behind. In July,the two sides agreed to resume negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty,to push forward on five specific areas of climate change cooperation (most of which had already been initiated),and acknowledged more than 60 areas of common purpose. With over 90 bilateral dialogues under way,they agreed to launch yet another: a dialogue on global development to exchange ideas on how to address poverty reduction,economic growth and sustainable development. It would be easy to criticise the S&ED on the grounds that after five years,there is little of substance to show for the enormous amount of time and money the two countries have expended on the annual meeting. The reality is that in lieu of real partnership,the S&ED is as good as it is going to get — and that isn't good enough.

Despite the paucity of new agreements,some in both countries have called for raising the profile of the bilateral relationship either through a "group of two"(G-2) or,more recently,a "new relationship among major powers". While officials and analysts are free to adopt any label for the US-China relationship they want,transforming it into a real partnership requires more than a rhetorical fix. It necessitates a much greater commonality of priorities,policy approaches and political values.

The fact is that there is a dearth of real accord between the US and China on how to understand and address many of the relationship's most pressing problems. While both agree on the need to bring North Korea back from the nuclear brink,for example,the US places a priority on forcing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme,while China places a priority on stability in the Korean Peninsula. Very different policies emerge from such different priorities.

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