The United States and China have been searching for a new way to frame their relationship. President Barack Obama’s trip this week to Southeast Asia, the focus of much U.S-Chinese tension, reminds us that with new leadership now set in both countries, it is time for them to carry on with that important task.
The new head of China’s Communist Party Xi Jinping called for a “new type of great power relationship” when he visited Washington last spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Washington and Beijing “are trying to do something that is historically unprecedented, to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”
Obama’s China policy has been successful in securing U.S. interests. What’s missing, however, is the two nations’ shared understanding of how they can co-exist in peace decades into the future.
Instead, many Americans envision a stronger, more aggressive China that Washington may need to confront. Many Chinese, meanwhile, fear a United States that will seek to preserve its waning power by lashing out.
As China grows stronger, uncertainty about what will come next in the bilateral relationship may only increase.