Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping started his visit to the US today, aimed at realizing the consensus reached by the heads of the two countries last year. The special position of Xi in the upcoming leadership change also signals the special meaning the visit holds for the Sino-US relationship.
In the 1990s, Chinese diplomatic circles believed the Sino-US relationship would become neither too good nor too bad. During this period, the world has changed greatly.
Among the series of variables between China and the US, the most fundamental is the balance of power between the two nations.
In 2011, China's GDP accounted for 45 percent of that of the US, but China's trade and manufacturing volume have surpassed the US'. Never in history has a second largest economy surpassed the US in trade and manufacturing. The US has never met a competitor like China before.
The US is now encountering difficulties in its development. The sense of insecurity Americans feel toward China's rise has become an outlet for them to express their anxiety at this time.
The environment in which China makes policies for the US is also changing.
In the past, elitism played a dominant role, and the top leaders set the tone of Chinese policy. Now, public opinion can influence foreign diplomacy.
In recent years, specific Sino-US frictions have occurred more often, which, despite the more frequent meetings between high-level officials from the two countries, have diluted the two countries' emphasis on each other's strategic importance.
Agreements previously reached by the two countries are gradually disintegrating and new consensuses are yet to form. In this period, it is very important for the two countries to travel smoothly through the process.
At present, there are impulses from both countries to counter each other. Neither country is confident it can keep such emotions in check.
But obviously, this job will prove more difficult for the US.
The rise of public opinion brings new complexities to Chinese diplomacy. The US has to face not only a stronger China but also a more complex China.
Even if this is the case, in the era of globalization, neither country wants to be the other's enemy while they are so interdependent.
No one can solve the structural contradiction between China and the US, so whether they like it or not, they have to let the result of natural competition make the decision.
It is hoped Xi's visit to the US will become a good opportunity for the two countries to ponder deeply on the bilateral relations strategically. They both need to be clear who they are and how they can enhance their relations.