Chinese President Xi Jinping
met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday. Xi highlighted the significance of the Sino-US relationship and Tillerson expressed the US' commitment to the principle of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation in terms of developing its ties with China, which is exactly the core content of the China-raised major power relationship between Beijing and Washington.
According to media reports and information released from the US Department of State's website, Tillerson mentioned the principle twice during his tour in China, while during former president Barack Obama's term, no record of Washington proactively mentioning it can be found in the media.
When it comes to the North Korean issue, Tillerson's tone in China is widely considered by the Western media as "moderate." He told reporters that China and the US "will work together to see if we can bring the government in Pyongyang to a place, where they want to make a different course, make a course correction and move away from their development of the nuclear weapons." Tillerson did not publicly explain the legitimacy of the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea, and the latter's public opinion showed enormous disappointment over it.
Tillerson made some quite specific statements when he was in Japan and South Korea, and by then, it was apparent that the North Korean issue was his core concern for his East Asia visit. Yet when he arrived in China, Sino-US ties came to the fore. He also said that lately "the Chinese and the US need to have a fresh conversation about what will define the relationship between the United States and China for the next 50 years," which is a very novel statement from the US side.
Since Trump assumed office, it seems that previous difficulties in maintaining friendly relations with Washington are turning trickier. But the US has also showed some unprecedented positive tendencies. Hence, there are currently not only uncertainties in the bilateral ties; similar strategic recognitions have also emerged between the two. Frictions show up every now and then, however, the willingness from the two sides to control the discord is also getting more distinct.
Beijing and Washington are enhancing their understanding with each other. This process is faster than the anticipation from the media. Judgments that "there would be no big problem between the two" have once again become popular.
China and the US are likely to bargain more frequently on various kinds of issues. It will become increasingly clear that those divergences are not strategic conflicts. Nevertheless, the disputes might turn fiercer and more frequent. The Chinese side should not exclude the possibility that Tillerson's positive attitude in Beijing is foreshadowing that Washington might up the ante in future negotiations.
Beijing will not be opposed to the US gaining more interests from its ties with China. But it must be done under the framework of win-win cooperation.
China and Trump's government are now at the starting point of their relationship. Both countries will explore each other's bottom line and make sure the way they interact is more favorable to one's own side. When divergences occur, Beijing should be bold to hold on to its own stance.