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Why is it important for China and the United States to engage in Dialogue?

2015/06/23

By Wang Yang, Vice Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China
For The Wall Street Journal

It has been nine years since China and the United States initiated a high-level and comprehensive dialogue on long-term and strategic issues. Since 2006, the Strategic Economic Dialogue mechanism (later renamed S&ED) has been one of the ways we have made this happen. The role of this dialogue has been commended by many, but unfortunately also criticized by some, who see China-US dialogue as nothing more than a conversation between the deaf, producing more mutual accusations than actual results. The way I see it, facts clearly suggest otherwise.

Dialogue has helped both of us to identify and expand our common interests and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. For example, dialogue was critical in kick-starting negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) that had been stalled since 1982. This breakthrough was made during the fifth round of the S&ED and involved the creation of a new model for negotiations between us, namely, the model of Pre-Establishment National Treatment (PENT) plus a Negative List, unleashing huge potential for China-US cooperation.

Another major success of dialogue has been in the area of climate change. This is an area where China and the US have enormous shared interests and also face daunting common challenges. The last three rounds of S&ED consistently focused on this issue and produced extensive common ground that paved the way for the historic Joint Statement on Climate Change President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama announced during the latter's visit to China last November. Such progress also gave a strong boost to multilateral negotiations in this area.

Maintaining dialogue has helped both sides to effectively manage differences and minimize their impact on our relationship.

Some may recall the motion in the US a decade ago to impose a 27.5% punitive tariff on all Chinese imports. Fortunately, both sides chose dialogue over confrontation, and worked together to forestall a looming trade war.

Over the past decade, China has been committed to market-based currency reforms, and the RMB has appreciated 35% against the US dollar. The recent IMF statement recognized the RMB as no longer undervalued.

These currency reforms in China have also helped us to reduce the current account surplus from the peak level of 10% of GDP to 2%, which means a big improvement in China's economic structure.

At the same time, however, many Chinese companies were frustrated by the high barriers the United States imposed on investments from China, such as security reviews and business visas. It is through dialogue that some of these concerns have been addressed by the US side. We look forward to more such positive steps.

Over the past six years, direct investment from Chinese companies to the United States has increased five times, creating over 80,000 jobs across this country. With fewer obstacles to our investment, imagine how much more can be achieved. A study in the US show that accumulated Chinese investments in the US will reach US$100 to 200 billion by 2020, adding 200,000 to 400,000 jobs for US workers.

China-US dialogue has also gone a long way to strengthening mutual understanding and the foundation for cooperation between the two countries. An online survey conducted in China last November shows that the majority of respondents believed that "greater understanding" is the best means towards "harmonious co-existence between China and the US".

Through dialogue, we gained better understanding of the concerns and expectations of the US side and deeper insight into the way the American political system works.

Dialogue has also helped the United States to learn much more about latest changes in China, for example, the fact that over 95% of Chinese businesses are privately owned or controlled; state-owned companies are responsible for their own operations, rather than being simply dictated to by the state.

Dialogue has thus been a two-way process of learning and adapting, which enables the two sides to approach issues in a more collaborative and effective manner.

There are different ways of resolving differences and frictions, and dialogue is certainly the most cost-effective means for doing so. The establishment of the high-level, comprehensive dialogue serves the need for peace, development and cooperation of our times and is a sign of the growing maturity of China-US relations.

Any time or energy the two countries put into the dialogue is more than worthwhile considering the enormous progress that results therefrom for both sides. Bilateral trade has doubled over the past nine years. China has become one of the fastest growing export markets for the United States and the US an important investment destination for China.

The convergence of interests between our two countries has gone beyond many people's imagination. It is now such that neither of us could afford non-cooperation or even all-out confrontation.

China-US relations are facing a rare opportunity for development. Yet many challenges remain. China-US dialogue can only be strengthened, not weakened.

On Monday (Today), I have the honor of co-chairing the seventh round of S&ED. This round is of particular significance as it lays the ground for President Xi's state visit to the United States in September. We look forward to engaging in candid dialogue with our US colleagues to achieve broader consensus, better solutions and sustainable success. Let's work together to add more building blocks to the new model of major-country relations for the benefit of our peoples and the world.

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