The fifth round of Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) between China and the United States is to be held in Beijing today. Being the last round of talks between the two countries during the outgoing Bush administration, it has evoked a particular interest as to whether the dialogue mechanism will be carried forward into the new US administration.
There have long been debates in the US about whether the established high-level dialogue mechanism should continue into the next administration after President Bush. Opponents hold the view that the new administration under Barack Obama should end the mechanism. In support of their case they cite the mechanism's failure to persuade China to appreciate its currency, the renminbi, open wider its financial sector and take effective measures to ease trade imbalances with the US. They also said the dialogue had only benefited Wall Street's financial tycoons.
The SED proponents argue that as two economic powers, it is necessary for the two heavyweights to continue with such a regular dialogue channel. They refer to the fruits yielded by the consultation model to back their argument, ranging from a 10-year accord reached by the two nations on energy cooperation to the enhanced mutual trust achieved between them under the dialogue framework. Some US scholars, such as Fred Bergsten, director of Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Niall Ferguson, a well-known historian in Harvard University, even propose the two countries set up the Group of Two (G2) and even forge a "Chimerica" between them.
Compared with the debates it has witnessed in the US, the question on whether the SED should be kept into the future, however, has never become an issue in China. From the Chinese viewpoint, the establishment of the dialogue mechanism was aimed to provide both sides with a platform to hold consultations on issues of strategic significance but not to implicate them into meaningless disputes on specific issues.
It is our hope that the high-level economic dialogue would push for a strategic partnership between the two countries and then help them handle emerging economic issues of common concern from a strategic perspective.
The ever-deteriorating global financial and economic situations now make it more necessary to maintain such a mechanism between the world's largest developed and developing countries. As the negative effects of the US financial crisis continue to spread throughout the world, what actions the US will take to rescue its staggering economy has provoked worldwide attention.
At the same time, people have also cast their eyes on China, hoping it to play a larger role in the global efforts to deal with the ongoing crisis. The East Asian nation has become a new engine of the world's economic growth, and its clout in the global economy has been on the rise. Any economic crisis in the country would inflict a serious blow to the global economic confidence. Under these circumstances, it will be particularly important for the two countries to sit down for in-depth exchanges of views on the issues of global significance and map out the future of the world's economy. That will serve not only their own interest, but also that of the world as a whole.
The SED between China and the US can serve as an important supplement to the established global consultation mechanisms in dealing with the ongoing economic crisis.
Because of prolonged tensions in Russian-US ties and continuing struggles between Washington and its ally Europe, the significance of the Group of Eight has been on the wane. The latest summit of the world's largest 20 economies in Washington last month also failed to work out strong, concerted actions to rescue the world's economy although some consensuses were reached. As they are biggest representatives of the world's developing and developed countries respectively, the Cabinet-level strategic dialogue between China and the US would give both delegations an authoritative voice on issues of common concern.
As the two countries are to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties the next year, the SED could be helpful in consolidating a long-term strategic partnership between Beijing and Washington. The established dialogue mechanisms between them have turned out to be a large contributor to the advancement of bilateral relations in the past 30 years. They have also proved a successful formula for an emerging power and an established superpower to develop ties. In the current world situations the SED between the two countries is obviously of international strategic significance.
Given Obama's remarks during his presidential campaign, whether the dialogue mechanism is kept alive will be a pointer to the new US administration's policy toward China. As sophisticated politicians, Obama and his team should know well what a good and stable Sino-US relationship means to the two countries and the world as a whole. So far, the US president-elect has held a positive attitude toward the importance of the mechanism and also expressed his wishes to carry forward the mechanism.
There are good reasons to believe that the incoming US administration will carry forward with the established dialogue mechanisms with China and even attach more importance to them, although they will unavoidably launch reviews of its predecessors' polices.
The author is director of Institute of American Studies under China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.