Avoiding usual traps and building China-US trust
Updated: 2015-09-22 07:42
In 2013, Xi had a meeting with US president Barack Obama in Annenberg Estate, California. [Photo/Agencies]
Symbolism matters in state visits, especially as President Xi Jinping embarks on his first state visit to the United States.
To many observers, how the Chinese leader is treated, what he gives and receives on this meticulously planned trip announced seven months ago will be highly symbolic. That would not only be an official indicator of the actual state of Sino-US ties today, but also provide clues to the prospect of the Beijing-proposed "new type of major-country relationship".
A carefully choreographed rapport is essential for Xi's visit, because Sino-US ties are at a tricky crossroad. They can either succumb to the foreordination of the "Thucydides trap", or blaze a new trail and prove that a rising power and an existing one don't necessarily have to enter a confrontation.
The current state of Sino-US relationship is not ideal. Otherwise there would not have been the rhetoric about a "new Cold War", even the possibility of a hot one. But the talk of "frenemy" itself reflects the significant constructive potential of bilateral ties.
It is natural for Beijing and Washington to have different priorities and expectations regarding the visit. Divergent as they are, their lists of concerns do overlap on such matters as climate change and global economic recovery. A state visit like this should be more about two leaders removing stumbling blocks and less about re-endorsing consensus.
The two sides may not agree on everything. Disagreements are unavoidable on issues such as human rights. But so long as both sides agree to disagree, bilateral relations won't worsen.
Xi and US President Barack Obama, however, can do more than that. They should take advantage of the closeness created at their past two informal meetings at Sunnylands in California and Zhongnanhai in Beijing, and discuss in detail matters of concern.
Since most problems troubling Sino-US ties have their roots in a perception gap, Xi and Obama should use the visit to assure each other of their intentions. Substantial business deals will bind the two economies more tightly together. But it will make everything easier if Beijing and Washington work together to reduce mutual distrust.
The visit will be a tremendous success if Xi and Obama leave their meetings more sympathetic to each other's concerns.