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    Posted April 12, 2014 by

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    Re-balancing Sino-American Communication


    This piece was written in response toaChina Daily editorial that demanded further explanation onthePivot to Asia policy,and some U.S gestures that they perceived as unfriendly.

    Re-balancing Sino-American Communication

    The news of Hagel’s visit to Liaoning, the sole Chinese military aircraft carrier, made headlines and became a major topic of discussion. As to what was published in the major Chinese media, there was a demand for further clarification on the seemingly contrasting things of this visit; a goal to increase trust, openness and transparency, yet unfriendly gestures.

    To be able to understand this anomaly we need to understand what is actually meant by the U.S policy that is widely known as the “Pivot to Asia”.  Most major media in the United States see this strategy as an effort by the U.S to counter China’s influence in Asia. However, before giving any assessment, we need to examine the background to why this policy was established.

    During the most recent global financial crisis it was apparent that the United States has lost their stride. However, in November 2011, they successfully signed a free trade agreement with South Korea. Together with the development of the TPP, Asia was quickly thrust back to a vital role in the United States’ future economic prosperity.  Thus, this situation placed the region at the heart of U.S economic and trade initiatives.

    In 2012 the Obama administration coined the “Pivot to Asia” policy. This strategy was projected to establish a more balanced economic, diplomatic and security approach. This strategy also marked a significant shift in American foreign policy. The States’ focus, which was once directed towards the Middle East and Europe, has now shifted back to southern and eastern Asia. The “Pivot to Asia” is actually a strategy that was created to establish and sustain American influence throughout Asia.

    However, it might be important to note that during his trip to Asia, President Obama himself never uttered the term “pivot”, and former U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon often used the term “re-balancing” rather than “making a pivot”.  In this case, it is true that rhetoric can shape perception and expectation, as well as playing an important role in determining foreign-policy outcomes.

    Within the light of such understanding, seemingly unfriendly U.S gestures in major territorial disputes, particularly regarding the Diaoyu Islands, the Taiwan Strait and the South East Asian Sea, can also be perceived as an effort directed towards this country itself, not towards China, let alone to challenge Beijing’s capabilities. Sustaining a constructive Sino-American relationship is one of the most important points on Washington’s agenda, and U.S gestures were actions taken to sustain the State’s influence within the corresponding countries.

    Still, with regards to rhetoric, both the United States and China have to be aware that each party has a different perspective regarding the term “transparency”. China perceives a visit to Liaoning as a sincere effort to raise military transparency between the two parties. Liaoning is China’s only aircraft carrier and a symbol of its rise. Meanwhile, the United States expects more transparency than just a visit to Liaoning, ones that expand to most military aspects. They believe transparency precedes trust.

    Facing such a situation, we need to reflect back to cultural factors that influence Chinese behavior. In contrast to the American paradigm, for the Chinese trust must precede transparency. What will bind the two sides together in any negotiation is trust, not pieces of papers. Thus, personal friendships that are warm and trusting are an essential factor in negotiating anything with the Chinese. Additionally, the Chinese will also spend a significant amount of time trying to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before negotiating an agreement. If the United States expect more transparency from China, it might also be important to understand this factor. Credibility is of the upmost importance and credibility is shown over the long run.

    Another aspect that might also be important to be noticed in Sino-American relations is the presence of other Asian countries. Whatever tensions these two major countries have, most Asian countries will diplomatically choose to maintain their relationships with both China and the United States in equal effectiveness, since they would rather have the advantages of joining both giant cooperation and competition in the region. No one desires the possibility of being forced to choose sides in a tension-filled Sino-American relationship.


    Pict 1
    the first Chinese aircraft carrier. Chuck Hagel, US Defence Chief became the first foreigner to visit the# carrier. Credits: philnews.ph

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