Reset relations

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the US has concluded with both sides being able to claim to their domestic constituents that the summit was successful. President Barack Obama can trumpet as an achievement the $45billion business deals that were signed during Hu’s visit which are expected to support 2,35,000 US jobs. Besides, he can hope to score some points with anti-China hardliners in the US, who would have warmed to his putting human rights concerns on the table. As for Hu, the state visit to the US will be seen back home as having cemented China’s rise as a global power. However, on the many issues that saw Sino-US relations turn particularly acrimonious over the past year, such as US arms sales to Taiwan, trade disputes, concerns over cyber security and internet freedom, spiralling tension in East Asia and so on, there were no breakthroughs during the Chinese president’s visit. Yet, the fact that for the first time China joined the US in expressing concern over North Korea’s uranium enrichment programme provides an important starting point for the two countries to adopt a co-operative approach in East Asia.

Many US commentators have raised questions over what the US got from engaging Hu. This stems from their refusal to accept that China is rising and that this rise is inevitable.

They must wake up to fact that there is much to be gained in engaging a rising China through co-operation. In fact, they stand to lose by not participating in China’s stunning economic growth. This is a reality that Indian hardliners opposed to co-operation with China must wake up to, as well.

During Hu’s visit to the US, Beijing and Washington spoke of a ‘co-operative partnership’ that will benefit the world. Was this mere rhetoric aimed at providing the summit with the right sound bites? Or does it signal the start of a new era? Hu and Obama have powerful sections back home that are opposed to a co-operative relationship. American hawks favour containing China. Chinese hardliners view the US and other rising powers with suspicion. Hu and Obama will have to overcoming decades of mutual distrust and suspicion as they seek to chart a different future. Opportunity to reset relations beckons Hu and Obama. Are they up to the challenge?

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