Small steps towards a sound relationship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2009, 12:00am

A sound relationship between China and the US is essential for global peace and stability. President Hu Jintao and his American counterpart, Barack Obama, appreciate this: their telephone conversation yesterday and meeting in London on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit last month were full of goodwill and pledges of co-operation. They will meet again in Italy soon and the US leader will make his first official visit to Beijing in the second half of the year. They need to speak regularly, work together and share their views to avoid the suspicion and lack of transparency that has so often plagued ties in the past.

The presidents' discussion yesterday was wide-ranging. They spoke about swine flu, the state of the global economy and regional security. The latter needs particular attention, given North Korea's threat to test another nuclear device and the continued challenges posed by Islamic extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. China and the United States have key roles to play on both these issues. Further afield, China's help will be needed to curb Iran's nuclear proliferation, end ethnic unrest in Sudan and the humanitarian crisis it has caused, and strike a meaningful international agreement on climate change.

More important, though, is that Beijing and Washington ensure sturdy mechanisms are in place for diplomatic and economic co-operation. Mr Hu and Mr Obama said as much in their statements yesterday, contending that the groundwork done in London was already being acted upon. Referring to the setting up of joint economic and strategic dialogues and efforts to tackle the economic downturn and other global and regional issues, Mr Hu said 'serious' progress had been made. Mr Obama agreed, believing a good start had been made to the bilateral dialogue.

This is exactly what we want to hear. But rhetoric must be followed with concrete action. The steps taken so far are important, but small. For the relationship to truly grow and flourish, trust and understanding have to be built - and this will only come through sustained effort.