Tillerson was warmly received in Beijing by Wang Yi, Yang Jiechi and Xi Jingping. The time and place for an imminent summit meeting between Trump and Xi have yet to be confirmed and announced. Instead, Tillerson is saying Trump would look forward to meeting Xi in China, and Xi is saying Mr Trump would be most welcome to visit China. (What about Florida?)
Tillerson is only a messenger, albeit carrying the right message this time. He does not set policy and cannot negotiate US positions on issues, at this stage of his job. It is interesting to note that, compared to his posturing and demeanor in Japan and Korea, he was comparatively courteous and almost deferential to his hosts in Beijing.
The key to progress now hinges upon the talks going on in the deep levels regarding the Korean Peninsula. In the meantime, the requisite synchronization of principles for the framework of the relationship has advanced very positively. In other words, it appears that the Dialogue process of my Roadmap is, literally, on the road.
For the first time, through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the US goes on record that its overall governing principles on US-China relations are：
“No clash. No confrontation. Mutual respect and Win-win cooperation.“
This is verbatim of China’s declaration about its proposed New Form of Big Nations Relations (“New Relations”) between the US and China.
Tillerson went on to say that the US welcomes the Dialogue approach to resolving differences. Reminiscent of Nixon 45 years ago, the Trump Administration would like to “set US-China relations on the correct course for the next 50 years” and “work with China to address problems” in the world.
Xi Jingping affirmed that approach, and said of US-China relations：There are more facets for cooperation than confrontation. If we focus on the common denominators, it will be win-win. Cooperation is the only correct choice.
Well, the two orchestras have played their overtures …
Friends Or Foes?
As I said in my Roadmap, the reality of US-China relations in a globalized polycentric era is multi-faceted and multi-dimensionnal. In some areas, the two share common interests and objectives (for example, keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free), while in other areas, their interests and/or objectives are at odds (for example, installing the THAAD system in South Korea).
To find the largest common denominator for cooperation and achieve win-win results for each other and the world, the two must jointly manage and control differences and actively engage in candid, sincere and realistic dialogue. They must work to resolve and/or minimize the damages and fallouts from ongoing problems. The status of the relationship cannot be simply black-or-white. Instead, I characterize it as a unified dichotomy of：
“Neither friends nor foes, on the one hand; and simultaneously friends and foes, on the other hand.”
If you find this puzzling, try to think how you would deal with someone who meets those conditions with you. You would realize that you have to be realistic, careful, caring, but leery at times. You would always have to strive for common grounds and creative alternatives. But you cannot be aloof or overly selfish, even if you are peeved. In reality, there is “me in you and you in me”. That is the true nature of US-China relations described in the Roadmap. It is grounded entirely on realism, and practical wisdom.
Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership
So how would this “Neither friends nor foes, and simultaneously friends and foes” relationship operate？ Well, for a start, this is neither normal nor recommended in the personal relationship of a couple or lovers. Instead, the appropriate reference might be partners in business. But partners should be friends, and certainly should not be foes. In reality, there are many facets in any business relationship. Think of the US and China as two humongous corporations. Each has multiple businesses and functions. The two corporations could be in direct competition with each other on some businesses, but at the same time partners in joint-ventures, investor/investee in each other’s or related parties’ projects. They would stand with and/or against each other on different public issues and in dealing with third parties. Now, that would easily fit the description “Neither friends nor foes, and simultaneously friends and foes”, wouldn’t it？ More often than not. it is reality, stripping away fanciful and unrealistic expectations.
Before Tillerson left for this Asia trip, he had lunch with Henry Kissinger at the State Department. Henry has been a staunch advocate of a Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership between the US and China for a long time. For the two biggest economies and military powers, a confrontation or cold war will wrought calamitous consequences for the entire world, whereas a broad and deep (hence “comprehensive”) working partnership centered around cooperation will greatly benefit each other and the rest of the world. That is why, like him, I am in essence dealing with the building of a new world order in my Roadmap.
The lunch with Kissinger may have something to do with Tillerson using in Beijing two words never before mentioned by the United States in its formal dealing with China — Mutual Respect.
The Lurking Mr. Hyde?
We must not forget that we are dealing with Donald Trump here. He said many things before that he did not mean, and meant things he did not say. And then there are his whimsy Tweets.
No amount of homework on China’s part will be sufficient to keep the Dialogue from periodically derailing. There is practicality no trust the Chinese can invest in Trump. When one thing or another does not immediately produce the results Donald wants, he may act up and the Mr Hyde side of his personality will show up.
It is recognized in the Roadmap process that obstacles and derailments will periodically jeopardize a wide range of cooperative endeavors. That would be normal and expected. So long as the overall principles are there as a reminder, and multi-track working groups continue to function and expand, these storms and blusters will hopefully come and go, and a bright day will find everyone back in a good mood.
As I mentioned in the Roadmap, the Dialogue approach is always a work-in-process (the product is never finished). At the current juncture, everything we are witnessing may take a quick turn for the worse if the dialogue on the Korean Peninsula (and on THAAD) does not produce sufficient common ground for the two sides to work in coordination. I would keep my fingers crossed until at least the big military exercises in April among the US, South Korea and Japan are over. A Xi-Trump summit amid such a military exercise would send signals that may lead to dangerous miscalculation on Kim Jung-Un’s part. The situation is very tense and delicate. Talks between Us and China are going on intensely.
We shall see what we shall see.