The U.S.-China relationship is commonly understood as needing more: more dialogues, more trade, more understanding, and more opportunities to cooperate. Yet the reality is just the opposite. In order to succeed, the relationship, ironically, needs less: less hype, less pressure, less competition, and less bilateralism.
As Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai noted just prior to the visit of Vice President Xi Jinping to the United States in February 2012, the two countries suffer a trust deficit. Certainly, recent polls in both countries bear out his assessment. In a 2012 China Daily USA-Gallup poll of more than 2,000 Americans, only slightly more than 30 percent believed that China's growing influence in the world was a good thing. And in a 2012 Committee of 100 poll of more than 4,000 Chinese citizens, only 56 percent considered the United States trustworthy.
But there is good news as well. In those same two polls, more than 80 percent of Americans believed that having a close relationship with China was a good thing, and over 60 percent of Chinese thought that the U.S.-China relationship was either important, very important, or China's most important relationship.
So how can the United States and China build on the desire of people in both countries to get the relationship right? Vice Minister Cui suggests that "nurturing and deepening mutual trust" is "a major issue that both sides must give full attention to and seriously address." How to build that trust, however, is the critical question.