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What the United States and China Need to Do

Author: Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies
February 13, 2012
China Daily

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With Vice-President Xi Jinping's visit to Washington, DC, there is hope that a new face will usher in a new era in Sino-US relations.

The simple truth is that the US and China have had few reasons to celebrate their relationship since China's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. Efforts to cooperate on issues as wide-ranging as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, climate change and Iran have fallen well short of full cooperation. Different priorities, approaches and values often undermine the best intentions on both sides. The result is a bilateral relationship that is characterized above all by uncertainty, mistrust and frequent friction.

There is a path forward, but it will necessitate a reorientation in the perspectives of leaders in both countries. First, both sides need to acknowledge that they are unlikely to find themselves aligned closely on most issues. In some cases, the difference will be a matter of degree. For example, while Washington and Beijing agree on certain issues against Iran, they don't agree on how broadly encompassing the sanctions should be.

In other cases, the differences will be more profound, as when the US and China found themselves on opposite sides of the recent draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria. There may even be instances in which we find ourselves actively at cross-purposes, such as in the South China Sea, where China's moves have run up against opposition from some of its neighbors and a consequent enhanced US presence.

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