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45 years on: Exploring stable, healthy, sustainable China-U.S. ties


As the curtain falls on 2023, the China-U.S. diplomatic relationship marks its 45th anniversary.

In this regard, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden exchanged congratulatory messages on Monday. In the exchange, Xi called on the two sides to earnestly implement the important common understandings and outcomes reached by the two heads of state and take concrete actions to promote a stable, healthy and sustainable development of China-U.S. relations.

"History has already proven and will continue to fully prove that mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation are the right way for China and the U.S. to get along with each other as two major countries," Xi said, adding that it should be the direction of joint efforts made by China and the U.S. in the new era.

Back in November, the two leaders held a historic summit meeting in San Francisco, where Xi pointed out that China and the U.S. should jointly develop the right perception, manage disagreements effectively, advance mutually beneficial cooperation, shoulder responsibilities as major countries, and promote people-to-people exchanges. These make up the five pillars for China-U.S. relations.

Ballast of ties: Economy and trade 

"If one sees the other side as a primary competitor, the most consequential geopolitical challenge and a pacing threat, it will only lead to misinformed policy making, misguided actions and unwanted results," Xi said in San Francisco, commenting on the question of whether China and the U.S. are adversaries or partners. 

In this case, jointly developing the right perception comes first in the five pillars, which also include advancing mutually beneficial cooperation.

Bilateral economic and trade cooperation is seen as the ballast of the China-U.S. relationship. Over the past 45 years, although the bilateral relationship experienced its ups and downs, trade between the countries rose from $2.5 billion in 1979 to $690.6 billion in 2022.

Noting the two sides are set to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their ties, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Xie Feng said that the China-U.S. relationship has come to a new starting point, with business cooperation facing new opportunities.

Xie said that the stabilization of China-U.S. relations, the recovery of the Chinese economy and the high-standard opening up in China are the three things that are creating a strong impetus.

Driving force: People-to-people exchanges

The Chinese president has entrusted the future of China-U.S. ties to the two peoples. "The foundation of China-U.S. relations lies in the people and the source of strength lies in the friendship between the people," he said.

Xi last year held meetings with U.S. businessmen, scholars and politicians in person. Additionally, he has maintained correspondence with friendly Americans like the Flying Tigers.

President Xi has also put his faith in the youth, hoping that the youth from the two sides will get to know each other and work together to promote the bilateral ties. At the welcome dinner hosted by friendly organizations in the U.S., Xi announced that China is ready to invite 50,000 young Americans to China on exchange and study programs in the next five years.

Under Xi's repeated call for enhancing people-to-people exchanges between the two nations, last year saw frequent interactions between the two peoples. China has resumed group tours to the U.S. following an increase in direct flights, a special 50th anniversary concert was held in Beijing to celebrate the Philadelphia Orchestra's 1973 visit to China, a 30-member delegation of the Flying Tigers veterans and their descendants visited China, Chinese artists performed the dance drama "Mulan" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and more than 200 U.S. exhibitors in various sectors attended the sixth China International Import Expo, marking the largest U.S. presence in the history of the expo.

"Xi understood the importance of people-to-people friendship," Elyn MacInnis, an American cultural expert, said during an interview with Xinhua. "He knows that people-to-people friendship is very strong. It influences the future."

Red line: The Taiwan question

During their first virtual meeting after Biden took office in 2021, Xi made clear to the U.S. president that the Taiwan question, which lies at the very core of China's core interests, is the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.

At their latest meeting in California, Xi again elaborated on China's principled position on the Taiwan question. He said that the Taiwan question remains the most important and most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations and urged the U.S. side to take real actions to honor its commitment of not supporting "Taiwan independence," stop arming Taiwan, and support China's peaceful reunification.

"It is important that they appreciate each other's principles and red lines, and refrain from flip-flopping, being provocative and crossing the lines," said Xi.

Experts believe that the real test for the development of China-U.S. relations is the Taiwan question.

Gao Fei, vice president at China Foreign Affairs University, said that the Taiwan question is the most important issue in bilateral relations and the foundation of stable China-U.S. relations.

If this question is not handled well, it will do far more harm to China-U.S. relations than any other issue, including economic and trade relations, Gao added.

In the current China-U.S. exchanges, the Taiwan question remains the foremost concern of the Chinese side, said Wang Jisi, founding president of the Institute of the International and Strategic Studies of Peking University.

Noting Taiwan will hold leadership election in January, but new leadership will not assume office until May, Wang said it is foreseeable that this period of time will be sensitive for relations across the Taiwan Straits as well as between China and the U.S.

The Chinese side is justified in requiring the U.S. side to be prudent about its words and deeds regarding Taiwan, he added.

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