US Presidential Election 2012

Election rhetoric aside, vital ties bind US and China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 2:08am

These are momentous days for China and the US, the world's greatest powers. Today, hours after Barack Obama was elected to a second term as president, the Communist Party begins its 18th congress to produce the nation's next leaders. Elections can be times of uncertainty and for months on both sides of the Pacific there has been concern about a negative shift in relations. There will be changes, to be sure, but no matter who is in charge in Beijing or Washington, there is an all-pervasive reality: it is in no one's interests to jeopardise ties.

US election campaigning gave the opposite impression, with China being the target of both Democrat Obama and Republican Mitt Romney as they fought for voters. Obama, accused by his rival of being soft on Beijing, pledged to be tough. But what is said on the hustings has little meaning when it comes to the nations' complex economic, military and political ties. No matter who is in the White House, policies always have to move towards moderation and pragmatism.

This is how it also has to be in Beijing. But during jockeying for positions for the party's Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee, factions have invariably tried to influence the outcome by showing strength through rhetoric and action. The US presidential campaign has given that opportunity, but so, too, have territorial disputes with American allies Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. When the new leadership team, widely tipped to be headed by Xi Jinping as president and Li Keqiang as premier, is unveiled next Thursday, moderate language and reasoned diplomacy have to return.

That is because China and the US are economically crucial to one another. Together, they can ensure and maintain peace and stability in East Asia. The world also needs them to be on good terms as through combined efforts, a host of problems can be better tackled, among them Europe's financial crisis, nuclear proliferation and tensions in the Middle East. Few global challenges can be dealt with by either alone.

China's relations with the Obama administration started on a high four years ago, but through disputes over trade, Taiwan, Tibet and the South China Sea, are mired in distrust. China's economic and military rise and renewed American interest in East Asia will test ties. Engagement and dialogue are essential and, fortunately, at unprecedented levels. It is a path that leaders old or new, no matter what they think, have to follow.