Below the global mainstream media radar, an urgent meeting between Chinese and U.S. officials recently took place in Beijing. The topics discussed amongst the senior officials included the now obstinately standard currency and trade disputes on both sides, but also and more importantly the underlying military tensions and arms race between the two countries. This was, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, a get-to-know-you meeting, though inasmuch it can be considered a turning point in early 21st-century China-U.S. relations. But has it come too late?
"The key point of the talks is not to make significant agreements, but to improve understanding of each other's stance. If tensions can be reduced to some degree and confidence increased, that is an achievement," said Shi Yinhong, an expert on the U.S. at Renmin University in Beijing. He emphasized that U.S.-China relations are troubled, but the worst seems to be over and both sides are headed toward reconciliation. Many in the international relations field would consider this outlook overly optimistic and especially premature, given the preliminary nature of the discussions.
What's most troubling is that they are still preliminary. It has been obvious for decades that China is the rising global superpower along with India, yet relations between the two are strained, as are those with the declining superpower, the U.S. China becoming the world's second largest economy, beating Japan, was a wake up call, but only because almost everyone was sleeping. Chinese state media has criticized U.S.-South Korea military exercises in the Yellow Sea and U.S. claims about South China Sea territory, in addition to U.S. arms sales to Chinese rival Taiwan and an Obama meeting with Chinese nemesis the Dalai Lama. For it's part, China's increases in military spending dwarf that of others globally.
There can be no doubt that the peace and prosperity of the world in the 21st century depends on open communications channels and cooperation between China and the U.S., and as a step in that direction this meeting is indeed a turning point. Even if it is too early to determine their outcomes, it has come both too late and at last. "Continuing to develop a positive and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship contributes to our two countries' major interests in peace, security and development," China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said. We couldn't agree more.