China, US Work on Relationship

Khmer Times, 29 September 2015

Last week’s summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama in Washington was a significant milestone in promoting strategic trust and advancing bilateral relations between the two major powers. 
US-China ties are the anchor of regional peace and development. Both countries are readjusting their perception of, and approach to, each other. Cooperation and competition lie at the core of their relationship.
The question is how these two countries manage their differences and competition.

The exchange of rhetoric between the two leaders is forward-looking and quite accommodating. But words need to be followed by actions. 

“To work with the United States to build the new model of major-country relationship without conflict, without confrontation, with mutual respect and win-win cooperation is a priority in China’s foreign policy,” stated President Xi. 
However, there is no concrete path yet towards a new type of major powers’ relations. While the US recognizes the significant role of China on the international stage, it is doubtful of China’s global power projection, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, such as massive land reclamation and the potential militarization, have alarmed the US, which is concerned about the freedom of navigation and over-flight in the region. 

Climate Change

The most important bilateral agreement was on climate change. Both leaders expressed their strong commitment to addressing climate change and working to build a global partnership to ensure the success of the upcoming summit on climate change in Paris later this year. 

“The two presidents also reaffirm their determination to move ahead decisively to implement domestic climate policies, to strengthen bilateral coordination and cooperation, and to promote sustainable development and the transition to green, low-carbon, and climate-resilient economies,” stated the US-China joint presidential statement on climate change.

Economic cyber-espionage

Economic cyber-espionage has been the most sensitive issue between the two countries over the past four years after China was accused of conducting cyber-theft of intellectual property of American corporations for commercial benefit or advantages.

China has pledged to crackdown on hackers who steal commercial secrets. 
Although there is no concrete binding bilateral agreement, both countries reached a common understanding and agreed on certain common norms and an appropriate code of conduct in cyberspace. 
“We’ve agreed that neither the US or the Chinese government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information for commercial advantage,” said Mr. Obama. 
Nuclear Fears
North Korea’s nuclear program is threatening regional peace and stability with the country planning to conduct its fourth nuclear test early next month.
Regardless of international sanctions and pressure, North Korea continues developing its nuclear program, expanding its nuclear arsenal and long-range ballistic missiles.
China is the main ally and supplier of food and fuel to North Korea but recently it has modified its position and strategy. China is tilting towards South Korea and gradually away from North Korea. 
Mr. Xi paid a state visit to South Korea instead of North Korea. Mr. Xi has not met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un since he assumed office in November, 2012. It is not in China’s interest to see its immediate neighbor possessing nuclear weapons. China and the US share common understanding and interest in denuclearizing North Korea.
But the question is how? Definitely, denuclearization cannot be done through regime change. North Korea needs security guarantee and economic support to maintain its regime survival.
“We reaffirm our commitment to realize the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in peaceful way.  And we oppose any action that might cause tension in the Korean Peninsula or violate U.N. Security Council resolution,” Mr. Xi said at a media conference.
South China Sea 
China and the US have different views on the disputes in the South China Sea. It is a long-term issue so it requires a long-term vision, commitment, and solution. 
Although the US is not a direct claimant in the disputes, its national interest is at stake when freedom of navigation is threatened. 
“I conveyed to President Xi our significant concerns over land reclamation, construction and the militarization of disputed areas, which makes it harder for countries in the region to resolve disagreements peacefully,” said Mr. Obama. 
China affirmed that it would uphold and respect the freedom of navigation and over-flight in accordance with international law, would not militarize the disputed body of water. 
“Relevant construction activities that China is undertaking in the Nansha Islands do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend to pursue militarization,” Mr. Xi responded. Nansha is the Chinese term for the disputed Spratly Islands.

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