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2011 - New Model of Major-Country Relations

Throughout 2013, Beijing called for a New Model of Major-Country Relations [far less frequently seen as a ‘‘new type of major-country relationship’’] with the United States. "As originated and promoted by Beijing, the concept of "New-Type Great Power Relations" (and its variants) is invoked to imply that Washington must respect China's "core interests" (including, apparently, in the South China Sea) while not committing Beijing to corresponding accommodation in return." according to Andrew S. Erickson, an Associate Professor at the Naval War College and an associate in research at Harvard University's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

Official Chinese statements claim the ‘‘new type’’ relationship is intended to promote more stable relations between the two countries and avoid or, if necessary, manage tensions that history suggests could occur as China rises. The concept, which was formulated by Beijing in 2011, has been referenced increasingly in official Chinese statements and press since February 2012, when then presumptive Chinese President Xi evoked it during a visit to the United States. The ‘‘new type’’ relationship was a central theme of the June 2013 summit between President Obama and President Xi in Sunnylands, California. They reached an agreement on building a new type of major-country relationship which features no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, cooperation and common prosperity.

The ‘‘new type’’ concept, like many Chinese policy slogans, is vaguely defined in order to provide Chinese officials with the flexibility to frame it in different ways for different circumstances and audiences. Chinese officials likely will attempt to use the concept to serve a number of Beijing’s strategic objectives, including the following:

  • Develop deeper and more frequent military communication to improve the two countries’ abilities to manage crises if and when they arise.
  • Pressure the United States to respect China’s ‘‘core interests,’’ which are to preserve China’s political system and national security, protect Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, and sustain economic and social development.
  • Promote an image of China as a constructive actor seeking common solutions to regional and global issues.
  • Convince the United States that China is proactively seeking to build a peaceful and cooperative bilateral relationship.
  • Pressure the United States to cease its military reconnaissance and survey operations in China’s claimed EEZ, reduce U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and relax restrictions on the military- to- military relationship, particularly those imposed in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits DoD from authorizing any military- to- military exchange or contact with representatives of the PLA if that exchange or contact would create a national security risk for the United States.

DoD is seeking to expand and deepen its engagement with the Chinese military in nonsensitive areas of mutual interest. DoD contends a strong military-to-military relationship develops familiarity at the operational level, which reduces the risk of conflict through accidents and miscalculations; builds lines of communication at the strategic level that could be important during a crisis; contributes to better overall bilateral relations; and creates opportunities to obtain greater contributions from China to international security. From 2012 to 2013, the number of U.S.-China military-to-military contacts — including high-level visits, recurrent exchanges, academic exchanges, functional exchanges, and joint exercises — more than doubled from approximately 20 to 40. In particular, contact between the U.S. Navy and PLA Navy increased significantly during this timeframe.

China and the United States on 14 February 2014 agreed to advance a new model of ties between major powers as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing for talks. "China is firmly committed to building a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States together with the U.S. side," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his 70-minute meeting with Kerry at the Great Hall of the People. China will continue to enhance dialogue, boost mutual trust and cooperation and properly handle differences in the new year so as to forge ahead with the lasting and healthy development of the ties, the president said.

Echoing Xi's remarks, Kerry said managing the new model of relationship between great powers is "very important" for the United States as well. He told Xi that President Obama "is very much looking forward to seeing you again shortly." Kerry's visit came as the two countries celebrated the 35th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

"Xi's remarks sent a stable and positive signal for China-U.S. ties, which means the two countries' general target and roadmap to a new model of relationship remain unchanged, though they sometimes have discord," said Da Wei, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Apart from Xi, Kerry met other Chinese leaders and senior officials during his 24-hour visit, including Premier Li Keqiang, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In talks with Kerry, Wang said the two countries should respect and accommodate each other's core interests and major concerns, calling on the two to "accumulate and unleash the positive energy of the relationship and promote it towards continuous progress on the right track."

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates assessed China's "aggressive approach" to foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, in comparison to his predecessor, Hu Jintao 21 May 2014 at the Council on Foreign Relations: "There is one thing that has changed under President Xi from President Hu—under President Hu, when Chinese ships harassed the U.S. Navy ship Impeccable when they launched an [Administrative Support Assessment Test, or] ASAT test, when they rolled out the J20 stealth fighter three hours before I met with President Hu. We had good reason to believe that in all three of these cases the civilian leadership in China did not know that those things were going to happen, that this was the PLA acting independently. That is not the case now. President Xi is clearly in charge and these things are clearly being done with his approval."

Washington harbored misgivings over the nature of China's "peaceful" development, while Beijing anxiously eyed Washington's "rebalance to Asia" policy and its persisting emphasis on military alliance with its regional allies. The world's biggest economy and strongest military is worryied about China's rise and consequently apparently adopted an encircling policy targeting China. Judging from US reactions to the right-leaning politics of Japan and territorial disputes on the South China Sea, China had reasons to believe that the United States attempted to block China by using its allies in the region. When China felt uncomfortable during these developments, particularly when facing infringement on China's interests, it was hard for China to believe in Washington's reassurance that it did not seek to contain China's growing power.

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Page last modified: 06-08-2015 18:01:10 ZULU