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Pacific Dialogue: China-U.S. Relations -- Conquering the Midlife Crisis
By Yu Lintao  ·  2019-01-02  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

Four decades ago, China and the U.S. brought forth a new diplomatic relationship, conceived with larger interests in mind and dedicated to the proposition that vastly different countries can build a partnership for the common good.

Now the two countries are under the shadow of a trade war, testing the limits of the relationship.

As China-U.S. relations are at a critical juncture, it is relevant to recall an ancient Chinese saying, which states, “At 40, one begins to conquer doubts.” It means a person becomes wise after 40 years of experience.

However, the China-U.S. relationship doesn’t seem to have learned from this wisdom of the elders. Instead of becoming wiser, it seems to have run into a midlife crisis.

The trade war launched by Washington has changed the track of China-U.S. relations, taking it to an icy point.

The confrontation has taken a toll on both countries. Chinese exports are meeting difficulties and the U.S. stock market has taken a negative turn.

Also, amid simmering trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, the IMF lowered its forecast for world economy growth for 2018 and 2019.

If the frictions continue, analysts say there won’t be any winner.

Washington’s moves defy logic. On the one hand, the Trump administration says it is willing to address the trade deficit issue and boost the domestic economy.

But on the other hand, it is trying to push China into a corner and reduce its strategic space at the negotiating table.

Washington has been delivering very noisy signals to Beijing. Chinese academic circle refers the trade war against China is the extension of the U.S. containment policy as the United States is unsettled by China’s rise in recent decades, and fears it may threaten its position as the world’s superpower.

The United States, like a man facing a midlife crisis, is keeping a watchful eye on the world, particularly those it regards as potential rivals.

Some U.S. academics attribute the current frosty relationship to the so-called Thucydides trap theory, the philosophy that a rising power poses a challenge to an established power, which will try to suppress the rising power.

At a recent Shanghai seminar commemorating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations, the creator of the theory, Harvard University Professor Graham Allison, said the U.S., accustomed to its ruling position, is feeling disrupted and disturbed by a rising China.

The Thucydides Trap theory is regarded by part of the U.S. academic and political circles as the theoretical foundation for Washington’s China-bashing policy.

But today, when the world has entered the 21st century, what is widely regarded as the most important bilateral relationship in the world should not be constrained by a theory that is more suited to the jungle law era.

Though there is competition between China and the United States, as the world’s top two players they should interact in a way that benefits them and the rest of the world, instead of being bogged down in confrontation that will hurt all.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been a keen advocate of building a community with a shared future for humanity.

As U.S. president, it is Donald Trump’s duty to “make America great again.” But also, as leader of the world’s biggest economy, shouldn’t it be his duty to make the world a better place?

Encouragingly, on the sidelines of the G20 Buenos Aires Summit last December, Xi and Trump reached an agreement to step up negotiations to remove all additional tariffs and reach a win-win deal.

It is now time for the two countries to engage in candid dialogue and meet each other halfway, mindful of the original aspirations to which they were committed when they first established diplomatic relations.

Given diverse, and sometimes conflicting, interests, building consensus can be an arduous process. But the prospect of reaching solutions beneficial to all will prove well worth the efforts required.

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