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US President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the White House January 20/AFP

Focus on China

Obama could build a legacy by boosting trust with China

US President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the White House January 20/AFP

US President Barack Obama is officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts in the White House January 20/AFP

BEIJING, Jan 21 – After his inauguration for a second term on Sunday, US President Barack Obama has little time to celebrate.

Among the tough tasks would be the management of Washington’s hugely complex yet extremely important relationship with China.

Historically, the relations between the world’s two largest economies and between a dominant power and an emerging one had never been easy, and such relationships were subject to deterioration to a point where the world’s very survival was put at risk.

It was against this background that some US politicians have always looked at their country’s assumed closest rival with much unease, and most recently, they have seen China’s emerging role on the world stage with a sense of anxiety.

However, for Obama, the “China challenge” is at the same time a hidden opportunity for his second term and he actually has a good chance of helping shape a new paradigm of inter-power relations and thus making it part of his legacy.

Obama’s re-election last year coincided with China’s leadership change, a phenomenon that happens only once in two decades and brings an opportunity for fresh thinking on the relations between the two countries.

China has proposed to build a new type of inter-power relations between Beijing and Washington, based on win-win cooperation, mutual trust and favourable interaction.

It signals an attempt of Beijing to break the cycle of on-again, off-again ties between the two nations and change the historical pattern of the seemingly inevitable conflict between a rising power and an established one.

China has made the first move and now the ball is in the US court.

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Now unconstrained by the pressure for re-election, Obama has more leeway in foreign policy. Moreover, the ever deepening economic and people-to-people ties between the two nations would also give him more channels and resources to fine-tune his China policy.

Based on the record of his first term, one can be cautiously optimistic that the president is leaning toward the idea of enhancing the US-China relationship rather than seeking confrontation.

For example, he has said for many times that Washington welcomes China’s rise and that Washington believes a strong and prosperous China can help bring stability and prosperity to the region and the world.

During the US presidential election campaign, although Obama was not immune from the poisonous air of China-bashing, he took a comparatively sensible tone than his challengers.

At the same time, like any of his predecessors, Obama continued Washington’s old China policy of double hedging during his first term and failed to significantly enhance strategic trust between the two nations although relations in other fields flourished.

With the high-pitched “Asia pivot,” the increasing U.S. military presence in the West Pacific, the meddling of the South China Sea issue and the covert support for Japan in the Diaoyu Islands dispute, Washington’s strategic mistrust of Beijing is evident.

In the eyes of many Chinese, those actions constitute a worrying sign. However, China has never sought to deny Washington’s role in Asia and has no intention to dominate the region.

Evidently, the lack of strategic trust has become the main obstacle to a mature China-US relationship, and building trust is the first step toward fostering a new type of inter-power relations between the two countries.

From a historic perspective, Obama has a unique opportunity to construct a new mode of US-China ties for lasting peace and prosperity of the two countries and the world at large.

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Obama has advocated “a new kind of politics” as his political brand, and China and many parts of the world are waiting to see if he can help build a new pattern of relations between Washington and Beijing.

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