China-U.S. Cooperation Helps Foster Common Friends




THE divergence between China and the U.S. on the South China Sea issue in 2016 has caused widespread concerns in the international community. The conspicuous divergence is overshadowing major breakthroughs the two sides have achieved in other areas of their bilateral relations.



China’s former State Councilor Dai Bingguo delivers on July 5, 2016, a keynote speech in Washington while attending the U.S.-China Dialogue on South China Sea between Chinese and U.S. think tanks.


Different from the former Soviet Union, China’s rapid development owes to its integration with the U.S.-led global order. Despite inevitable divergences in the process, the international order is still in China’s interests. Hence, in most cases, China tends to maintain it, and is willing to preserve good relations with the U.S. and carry out bilateral cooperation. In fact, China shares common interests with the U.S. in many fields of global affairs and has enjoyed fruitful cooperation.


Boost World Economy


In the economic field bilateral relations feature both competition and close cooperation. As the two countries that have benefited the most from globalization, China and the U.S. have common economic interests. In 2015, the bilateral trade volume increased to nearly US $560 billion, a new high, from about US $2 billion in 1979 when the two countries first established diplomatic relations. China thus became the U.S.’s biggest trade partner. Bilateral two-way investment stock exceeded US $150 billion, also setting a new record. Chinese firms created 80,000-strong direct employment opportunities locally while investing in the U.S.; 2015 also saw 2.6 million person-times of Chinese travel in the U.S. with consumption surpassing US $20 billion.


As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew put it, the China-U.S. relationship has become the world’s most important bilateral relationship. What’s noteworthy is that great headway has been achieved in the bilateral investment treaty, which will possibly become the basic template for a China-EU investment treaty. Moreover, both China and the U.S. are aware of the importance of bilateral cooperation in boosting the economy. China, as a member of G20, has carried out widespread cooperation with the U.S. in stabilizing the European economy and promoting Southeast Asia’s development.


Maintain Regional Safety


China and the U.S. also share major common interests as regards the regional safety issue. Since the Obama administration introduced the “rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific,” the two sides’ divergence on the South China Sea issue has become a media focus. However, on the whole, China and the U.S. still have major common interests in several regional safety issues. The following outlines six of them.


The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue will be one of the world’s most critical safety issues in the coming 5-10 years. China and the U.S. have common interests and a clear consensus on opposing North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula. The consensus has served as a decisive guarantee preventing escalation of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue into massive armed conflicts, or even war.


China and the U.S. have coordinated in peacefully solving the Iranian nuclear issue, which is actually the most successful example of bilateral cooperation. Due to their long-term hostility and lack of mutual trust, the U.S. and Iran were often on the verge of negotiation breakdowns. At critical moments, China actively mediated between the two sides and brought them back to the talks table by resorting to its great influence on Iran. It can be said that China’s mediation and China-U.S. cooperation have played decisive roles in skewing the U.S. and Iran from getting trapped in disastrous armed conflicts.


The return of the Taliban will be inevitable in Afghanistan as NATO’s military operations there come to an end. U.S. military actions resulted in a weak and teetering Afghan government. Afghanistan’s turmoil also constitutes a grim challenge to China’s national interests. On one hand, it could exacerbate the terrorism and extremism issues facing Northwest China; on the other, it could possibly create turbulent situations in Pakistan. Both China and the U.S. should take responsibility for stabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan, because if Pakistan should become another Afghanistan, this would have disastrous impact on the world security situation.  


China and the U.S. have also sustained cooperation in maintaining Southeast Asia’s stability and safety despite disputes on the South China Sea issue. The two sides have indeed cooperated with each other successfully in smoothing Myanmar’s democratic transition and Vietnam’s reform and opening-up. If the U.S. hadn’t influenced influence Myanmar’s Democratic Party to remain modest and prudent, and China hadn’t persuaded the military side to restrain from any rash actions, it would have been hard for Myanmar to make a peaceful transition. Even now, China’s influence on ethnic minorities in North Myanmar is still a decisive factor in keeping Myanmar from civil war.


In the Middle East, China and the U.S. also have common ground as regards fighting terrorism and maintaining regional stability and security, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian issue and those of Iraq and Syria. China has maintained long-term friendly relations with Arab countries, while the U.S. still exerts great influence on countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia. While the whole world has failed to find a way to solve the problems in the Middle East for good, China and the U.S.’s effective cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue is presenting a viable way to solve these issues.


Considering NATO and Russia’s opposing stands on issues regarding Ukraine and Crimea, tensions in Eastern Europe will inevitably continue for a long period, and could possibly ripple into Transcaucasia and the Baltic region. Given good China-Russian relations and China’s growing clout in Central and Eastern Europe, China’s mediation and China-U.S. cooperation in the region will play a critical role in easing regional tensions and solving the contradiction between Russia and the West.


Benefit the World


On untraditional security issues, there is big space for China-U.S. cooperation. In multiple UN actions including prevention and control of Ebola and piracy in Somalia, the two sides have established an effective coordination mechanism. Their cooperation is playing an increasingly important role in terrorism prevention. Both victims of terrorism, the two sides have common ground in combating terrorism and extremist forces, and have carried out extensive and effective exchanges and consultations on multiple issues, such as information exchange and jointly fighting terrorism.


Due to huge differences in their political systems and ideology, it’s inevitable for China and the U.S. to have divergent opinions. However, their global positions and national interests decide the two sides’ vital cooperation. It has become the only way the two countries can strengthen cooperation by rising above disputes and seeking common ground while reserving differences. The related countries will also benefit from their bilateral cooperation.


China-U.S. cooperation in the Asia-Pacific plays a similar role in conforming to the fundamental interests of most countries of the region. In particular, against the backdrop of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s active infiltration of certain countries there, China-U.S. cooperation will undoubtedly contribute to its stability.


CHU YIN is an associate professor at the University of International Relations.