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Cover Stories Series 2011> A Rewarding State Visit> Opinions
UPDATED: January 11, 2011 NO. 2 JANUARY 13, 2011
Continuing Adjustments
Faced with a changing international scenario, China and the United States need to readapt to each other

MARITIME MIGHT: U.S. and South Korean warships take part in a joint naval exercise off South Korea's east coast on July 26, 2010 (XINHUA/AFP)

After all the twists and turns in the China-U.S. relationship in 2010, Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States in January will draw international attention. It is essential for the two countries to make the best of this opportunity to pave the way for a positive and stable relationship.

In the first half of 2010, a series of issues, including trade disputes, cyber security, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and U.S. President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, damaged bilateral ties. In the second half, suspicions were further increased due to the two countries' divergent views of the U.S.-South Korea joint naval drills, South China Sea territorial disputes, disputes between China and Japan over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands and tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

For all their differences, China and the United States have many common interests, including promoting peace and development and combating terrorism, piracy and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the new international environment, it is essential for the two countries to explore more effective means of cooperation.

Strengthening interaction

When China and the United States started to normalize their relations nearly four decades ago, the relationship was deemed part of a "strategic triangle." At that time, the only global mission of this relationship was to deal with the Soviet Union. In fact, interaction between the two countries was very limited, as China had just started to participate in global affairs, resuming its seat in the UN in 1971. The two countries' economic, trade and cultural exchanges were also in an infant stage. For a long period, the main problems in the China-U.S. relationship centered on China's most favored nation treatment by the United States, the Taiwan question and human rights.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, though, the two countries' interaction on global issues has become much stronger. Prominent issues include antiterrorism cooperation after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and non-proliferation efforts after the reemergence of the North Korean nuclear issue in 2002. Cooperation has also been seen in energy security, climate change and anti-piracy. Their joint efforts in dealing with the financial crisis are noteworthy as well.

What's more, their interaction has already gone beyond the bilateral scope, extending to a regional and global level.

This more extensive relationship between China and the United States is not only a result of the growing significance of global issues in the post-Cold War international agenda, but also a reflection of changes in the international system.

Since the beginning of the century, the United States has been strategically deadlocked. The financial crisis further challenged its ability to lead international affairs. However, emerging economies, including China, have experienced a collective rise, thanks to their sustained development in the past decade. This rise has added vitality to the world economy and provided a new perspective for global politics.

As emerging countries are quite different from Western countries in development models and cultures, their increasing involvement in global affairs has made it possible to steer the international system in a more diversified direction.

The current China-U.S. relationship is a typical example of interaction between an emerging country and a dominant country in the international system.

Difficult adaptation

Maladjustment has been seen with both countries in the new international environment. Due to a declining ability to dominate international affairs, the United States has become frustrated. This has led to an increased anxiety when handling foreign relations. Now, there are domestic debates on whether the United States has weakened and about its actions in the world.

Likewise, China seems to be searching for the appropriate vocabulary with which to define its new role in the international system. Therefore, China-U.S. relations have changed, but a new interaction mode has not yet been formed between the two countries. They are in a new round of adjustment.

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