Yearender: China, U.S. well on track to build new relationship despite challenges
                 English.news.cn | 2013-12-25 12:39:18 | Editor: chengyang

by Xinhua Writer Zhi Linfei

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- The year 2013 will be remembered for witnessing a new start of China-U.S. relations, largely thanks to the far-sighted consensus reached at the historic Annenberg summit on building a new model of major-country relationship.

At this June summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama charted a clear course for the future development of the bilateral ties, agreeing to build a new type of major-country relationship characterized by no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.

Despite various challenges, the China-U.S. joint endeavor henceforth has generally been well on track, as demonstrated by the many achievements in efforts to enhance mutual exchanges, interaction and cooperation on a wide range of issues.

A FRUITFUL YEAR

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden concluded a two-day official visit to China in early December, capping a fruitful year of high-level exchanges and dialogues, whose frequency and achievements were rarely seen in the past decades.

The upward momentum was impossible without the Xi-Obama summit, during which the two leaders held in-depth talks in a relaxed atmosphere on the whole range of issues affecting the most significant relationship in the world.

They reached a historic consensus on forging a new type of major-country relationship based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation, through maintaining current mechanisms of exchanges and dialogues, expanding cooperation and handling differences constructively.

The summit was widely applauded for ushering in a new era of cooperation. This was "an historic gesture" by both leaders to seize the strategically significant moment of leadership changes "to set the groundwork for significant progress in the near and medium term," Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Xinhua.

In fact, even before the summit, high-level bilateral exchanges and interaction had already started. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew visited Beijing in March, followed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, both of whom visited China in April.

Riding on the optimism generated by the Xi-Obama summit, high-level exchanges picked up pace in the latter half of the year. In July, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang and State Councilor Yang Jiechi co-chaired with Lew and Kerry in Washington the fifth round of Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED).

Following Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to the U.S. in September, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong visited Washington in November to co-host with Kerry the fourth China-U.S. High-level Consultation on People-to-people Exchange (CPE).

Both the S&ED and CPE yielded a long list of tangible achievements in promoting bilateral trade and investment, boosting people-to-people exchanges, and expanding cooperation in such fields as trade, climate change, new energy and cybersecurity.

The most noteworthy progress, however, was the acceleration of military-to-military contact, long regarded as the weakest link in the China-U.S. relationship. The two sides significantly ramped up military diplomacy this year in a bid to build a new type of military-to-military ties as agreed at the Xi-Obama summit.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan paid his first visit to the United States in August to hold talks with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel on boosting military communication and cooperation. Hagel accepted an invitation to visit China next year, while inviting the Chinese navy to join for the first time the U.S.-led RIMPAC 2014 multi-national naval exercise.

In late August, the two navies conducted the second joint anti-piracy drill in the Bay of Arden. Chinese Navy Commander Wu Shengli visited the United States in September, while U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh visited China in late September.

Three Chinese military ships held a rare search-and-rescue exercise with the U.S. Navy in September in Hawaii, where the two navies also staged the first joint humanitarian aid and disaster relief drill in November.

"The upturn in the military-to-military relations is especially noteworthy as a departure from the past," Paal said, adding that such contacts have the potential to make a crucial contribution to avoiding conflict.

Globally, China cooperated with the United States on some hotspot issues, helping reach negotiated solutions to the Syrian chemical weapons crisis and the Iranian nuclear issue.

Such cooperation demonstrates that when the two countries have overlapping objectives but disagree on the means to achieve them, "we can still work together," Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Xinhua.

A ROCKY PATH AHEAD

The past year was relatively tranquil for the China-U.S. relations, with little interference by old flashpoint issues such as currency, human rights, Tibet and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Washington challenged Beijing early this year over allegations of China's hacking of U.S. networks, but the controversy faded quickly since June when former U.S. defense contractor Edward Snowden exposed massive U.S. surveillance operations worldwide, including in China.

Still, the past year was far from hassles free. Signaling a rocky path ahead in building a new relationship, the otherwise perfect year came to a tense end with the two sides trading barbs over China's establishment of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.

Adopting double standards, the United States unjustifiably criticized China for declaring the ADIZ in November, though many countries including the United States itself and Japan had already made the same moves. Washington even flew two B-52 bombers over the zone in a show of force.

Apparently, maritime disputes in the Pacific have apparently become a new flashpoint issue that threatens to derail the China-U.S. ties.

In another sense, this highlights the importance of furthering the China-U.S. military-to-military exchanges for avoiding misunderstanding and miscalculation.

Last week, Chinese and U.S. defense authorities effectively communicated after a recent encounter between warships of the two nations in the South China Sea.

Both China and the United States hope to set their relations on a course toward peace and mutual prosperity, "but it remains to be seen if they are willing to adjust their policies, goals and behaviors" for that sake, said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

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