Few would expect the diplomacy between the US and China to return to the level of 20 or 30 years ago, but it is relevant today to learn from the older generations of US and Chinese leaders on how to handle the adversary-partner question at critical moments in the bilateral relationship.
Jiang handled the two incidents with dexterity and strategic patience, putting bilateral ties back on the right track and securing US support for China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, which paved the way for the country’s economic boom in the ensuing two decades.
Together, China and the US account for about one-third of the world economy, almost a quarter of the global population and around a fifth of global trade. If Beijing and Washington can find ways to ensure durable coexistence, that would be the best stabilising force for world peace and development.
In the past five years, however, security concerns have taken top priority. Last year, in his keynote speech at the 20th Communist Party national congress, Xi spoke once of pursuing development as the government’s central task but devoted far more time to national security and social stability, highlighting “political security as our fundamental task, economic security as our foundation, military, technological, cultural and social security as important pillars and international security as a support”.
Now that China and the US are heading for a period of uneasy calm, China’s leadership must take advantage of the window of opportunity to find a better balance between security and development. That calls for a renewed effort to genuinely make pursuing development the government’s central task.
Wang Xiangwei is a former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He now teaches journalism at Baptist University