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Column: Leadership, stability key to U.S.-China relations

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It is an undisputed fact that China is on the rise in the globalized world. It has had a great impact on the world, particular the superpower of the United States.

Many scholars believe that bilateral relationship between China and the United States has become the most important global issue of this century. Therefore, there is urgency in understanding the following:

What is happening in China?

Where China is heading?

What are the current relations between the U.S. and China?

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about China in the rest of the world which negatively affect the ability to objectively understand China and ultimately influence foreign policy toward China. Misconception usually leads to distrust and distrust, in this instance is the roadblock in Sino-American relations.

For Chinese leaders today, the most urgent concern is political stability. In other words, they care about the legitimacy of their system and their continued hold on power. It is natural that Chinese leaders worry about domestic and international matters. Domestically, the increase in national protests by discontented groups, such as unemployed workers, migrant workers, farmers and students.

The number of disturbances and mass protests of inequality and injustice has increased significantly in China in recent years (more than 200,000 in 2011 alone). Internationally, there has been an increasing number of disputes with its neighbors over territory. These disputes could lead to a confrontation with the United States which is something that both China and the United States want to avoid.

China has taken these challenges head-on. To strengthen its legitimacy and prevent instability, China’s leaders have adopted and implemented a series of policies that target human rights in China. The obvious objective is to reduce frustration from the discontented groups and reduce open criticism from Western countries.

On an international level, China worries about the unsettled relations with the United States. The following are a few examples of the causes of tension between China and the United States:

Human rights: In 2013, the Chinese government detained more than 50 activists. The United States criticized these actions as a violation of its international obligations. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders have insisted that this was a domestic affair and demanded that United States not interference.

Trade: Trade imbalance, intellectual property rights and currency valuation are some of the trade issues that face each of these two economic powers. The trade relations between the United States and China is the second-largest in the world. According to a U.S. treasury report, China owns about $1.3 trillion in the U.S. treasuries, which makes it the largest creditor of the United States in the world.

Military confrontation: The potential military confrontation between China and the United States caused by the defensive treaties with our allies. China’s growing assertiveness in territorial disputes with its neighbors is another source of tension.

Through defensive treaties, the United States has military alliances with many of these countries. For example, the dispute between China, Taiwan and Japan over the Senkaku Islands (also known as the Diaoyu in China and Tioyutai Islands in Taiwan) is a very hot-button issue.

All of disputing parties have claimed sovereignty over these islands. Based on a treaty between the United States and Japan, the United States has affirmed the support for Japan. China, on the other hand, has strongly demanded that the United States should not get involved in this dispute.

Cybercrime: Both countries claim that their government and corporate institutions are the victims of cyber attacks from the other side.

Taiwan: Despite improved relations between Taiwan and China in recent years, the issue of Taiwan still is the most sensitive and complex issue that policymakers in the United States and China must face today. One aspect is whether the United States should continue to sell defensive arms to Taiwan.

Despite the tension between the two countries, there are many mutual interests shared by the U.S. and China. No one country alone can solve the many global issues that we face today — war against international terrorism, cybersecurity, climate change and North Korea. One would hope that the United States and China could work together to boost the economies for their respective countries.

One positive development in the Sino-American relations is that the leaders of both countries understand the consequences (death and destruction) of a major military confrontation between the United States and China, and they are willing to establish a workable system to avoid any such confrontation.

For example, Chinese President, Xi Jinping wants to build a “new type of great power relationship” between the countries, while President Barack Obama’s new foreign policy strategy toward Asia shows that China and the United States on are the same page. Both sides share a commitment to a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive U.S.- China relations.” This is easy to say but very hard to do.

These types of relationships are built on mutual trust, which is the heart of the Sino-American relations. To date, this trust has not been established. Without this trust, the relations between these two powerful countries will continue to be fragile and dangerous. Hopefully, we will get there sooner than later.

Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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