February 12, 2021 at 12:05 am
Ernesto M. Hilario
"It is time for the two powers to move forward through dialogue."
World leaders are taking a step in the right direction in urging the United States and China to reset their relationship now that the newly installed Biden administration in Washington offers the possibility of strengthening bilateral ties anchored on dialogue and cooperation rather than division and confrontation.
It was Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who sounded the call in his closing address at the recent World Economic Forum Davos Agenda virtual meeting.
The Singaporean leader lamented that tensions between China and the US have intensified sharply over the last four years, with both taking more assertive and uncompromising positions on issues.
"The US now sees China as a strategic rival and challenger to its preeminent position and China is vigorously asserting what it considers its rightful place in the world," he said.
It is true that it is difficult for the US to adjust to China's rise since it has been the world's only superpower for so long.
"I think if you see China as a threat, that is going to be a very big problem because then you are creating a threat and the struggle will continue for a long time," he said. "China is not going to collapse the way the Soviet Union did."
It is equally true that it is not too late for both countries "to reset the tone of their interactions and avert a clash between them, which will become a generational twilight struggle."
Lee said the new US administration is an opportunity to steer the relationship toward safer waters.
"Amid President (Joe) Biden's many urgent preoccupations, the US-China relationship should become a key strategic priority," he said.
"To persuade your own people—the population, Congress, the intelligentsia, I think that takes leadership of a pretty high order," he added.
We support Lee's call for Beijing and Washington to talk, as there is really an urgent need for an international order "underpinned by stable great power relations." While acknowledging that some competition and disagreements are normal, he argued that monumental challenges like COVID-19 and climate change require cooperation.
"Big countries naturally jostle and compete with one another for influence and power," he said. "But they also need to work with one another, to establish and accept rules and norms on issues which affect us all."
Biden's arrival in the Oval Office, he suggested, presents an opportunity for the U.S. to steer ties with China toward "safer waters."
Other leaders have said as much. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said his country is a strong partner for both China and the US economically: "We see that cooperation is not just possible but absolutely necessary."
"Without cooperation, we cannot deliver prosperity, we can't (bring) security to our individual nation or to the global community," he added.
For his part, Indonesia's foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said his country "hopes ASEAN and China can cooperate better."
Fu Ying, a former Chinese vice-foreign minister, said there had been serious damage to China-US relations over the past year that cannot just be brushed aside.
"It's a challenge for both sides to find the right way forward," she told the Davos forum.
Fu believes that the current US administration needs time to assess areas it must cooperate on with China, and areas it needs to manage to avoid conflict.
"For the Chinese side, I think we also need to reflect and observe what is the intention, what is the next move by the United States," she said, adding that China has no intentions toward world dominance.
Early in January, at the four-day Bloomberg New Economy Forum, US-China tensions were also a major focus, with former and present heads of state calling on Xi Jinping and the Biden administration to get the relationship back on track.
Here, Singapore Prime Minister Lee urged Beijing and Washington to forge a truce, while former President Bill Clinton said a more coordinated approach to dealing with Beijing would be needed as Xi’s long-term reign upended relations.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said the Biden administration should move quickly to restore lines of communication or risk drifting into a crisis that could escalate into war.
We concur with all the views urging talks aimed at achieving detente between the United States and China based on established principles of peaceful coexistence and respect for each other's sovereignty. It is time for the two powers to move forward through dialogue to hammer out solutions to lingering differences, find common ground and advance the shared goal of lasting peace.