The Sino-US relations are no longer what they used to be. President Donald Trump’s three-day visit, in November 2017, to China has revealed that the strained relations between strategic rivals are taking new turns; from chasm to rapprochement. Trump was all praise for Xi Jinping. The US President was extended a red-carpet welcome upon his arrival in China – his predecessor, Barack H. Obama, was not accorded this prestige when he visited China. In the similar spirit, Trump forgot all the could-haves, should-haves and would-haves and put all the speculations of uncertainty to rest by showing a rare softer tone. Many view this change of tone as a shift in American policy toward China. This policy change has some overt or covert interests; prime among them being the denuclearization of North Korea.
The relations between China and the United States have been fraught with problems and discords; the latter has been having antagonism toward the former since its creation in 1949. The US took three long decades to recognize China. Throughout, the clouds of confrontation and competition between the two remained hovering. Ifs and buts on various issues had created a prolonged trust deficit.
Donald Trump’s visit to China is being seen as a revisit in Washington’s approach to Beijing as the US President reiterated that he believed in One-China Policy. In addition, he did not attend the question-answer session when a joint statement was issued – contrary to the customary practice of his predecessors. On the other hand, Trump sought help from China in curbing North Korea’s nuclear programme. It is feared that the unending sabre rattling between the two countries may trigger a military provocation any time in the coming days and weeks.
Economic rivalry between China and the United States has also been a glaring cause of contention since long. In economic ranking, the US stands atop while China occupies second position, with the latter poised to become the world’s biggest economy in 2025. As a global economic competitor, China is, probably, the only communist state that rose to the highest rung of economic development in such a short time and most economists believe it would soon be the biggest economy for China’s contribution to global economic output is waxing while that of the United States is waning. Chiding China for its trade practices, during his election campaign, Donald Trump had once uttered: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.” But, President Trump was totally different in his stance; he said that he did not blame China, stating that trade deficit is not China’s fault. Rather, he held responsible his predecessors for not taking steps for the boost of US shares in the trade.
“I don’t blame China,” he said, “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?”
In the same spirit, China responded positively. The positive and constructive behaviour on both sides speaks volumes about the fact that the two sides are ready to iron out their differences. While delivering a speech on December 10, 2017, at the Symposium on International Developments and China’s Diplomacy in 2017 in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying: “For both countries, the old-fashioned mentality of zero-sum game and confrontation works no longer. Putting aside differences, seeking common ground and pursuing win-win cooperation are the only right choice for a bright future.”
The US has set many other issues aside in its bid to improve ties with China; the issue of South China Sea (SCS) deserves a special mention in this context. The SCS is a strategic waterway on which China claims right – it has also been building islands in the SCS. The United States, on the other hand, has viewed this activity as a violation of international law as it claims that the SCS cannot be under any state’s control for it is res communis under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Showing concerns identical to those of Obama administration, Trump had issued warning to China during its initial days in office but he did not speak even a single word on it during his trip to China; and it is another indication of evolving relations.
The long and the short of the matter is that the United States has realized Beijing’s economic prowess and its worth in the international arena. Beijing and Washington are expected to iron out their differences during the incumbency of Donald Trump and XI Jinping. This auspicious beginning of closer ties paints an engaging picture of benign development on the landscape of the foreseeable future. Though some developments may speak otherwise, this unprecedented upward trajectory of the erstwhile Cold War-like ties can elevate the relations to a new level, that is, friendship in which both the powers could enjoy an evened-out hegemonic sway across the globe which they both are ambitious for.