China’s new leader: Opportunity to forge improved relationship?

In the hodgepodge of reality, show biz gossip, animal features, and YouTube videos that comprise what passes for TV news these days, scant attention has been given the recent change of leadership in China, a turnover that has potential for significant long-term impact for China itself, the U.S., and much of the rest of the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) after a joint press conference at the Great Hall of People in Beijing. — Getty Images, Feng Li

China’s transformation from a society closed to the world for decades to a global economic power has been little short of amazing, yet the relationship between China and the U.S. has been wary at best — neither country exactly trusting the other, with underlying worry at governmental level that this uneasy détente will eventually lead to conflict.

But, says Kevin Rudd, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, who was named one of Time magazines 100 most influential people in the world, has potential to be the country’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao, and represents an opportunity for both nations to pursue common interests for a long-term beneficial relationship.

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Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, now senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, says China’s rise to world power is akin to the melting of polar ice caps — a slow process, then a large chunk sloughs away.

In an analytical report, “U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping,” he notes a shift in the center of global economic and political power from west to east, with China now a greater trading partner to every country in Asia than the U.S. And, he says, despite predictions by some analysts of a collapse, “On balance, the Chinese economic model is probably sustainable, with growth rates of 6 percent or higher.”

By mid-century, says Rudd, the economic gap will likely widen in China’s favor, but the U.S. will remain ahead militarily. Xi Jinping is committed to “restore China’s place as a respected great power in the councils of the world,” with an overriding belief that economic power is the bedrock of national power. His core priority is to build an even stronger economy.”

Despite conflicting perceptions — Beijing seeing America as deeply opposed to China’s rise, and Washington seeing China as seeking to push the U.S. out of Asia — a common strategic narrative for U.S.-China relations is possible, he says.

“Such a framework should be ‘realist’ about those areas that are not possible to resolve in the foreseeable future, constructive about areas that could be resolve with high level political effort, and guided by a common purpose to build strategic trust, not based on declaratory statements, but on common action in resolving common problems.”

China is, of course, a major customer of U.S. agriculture, so America's farmers have a vested interest in the future relationship of the two countries.

TAGS: Legislative
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