On the eve of the second round of the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (S&ED) that started in Beijing on Monday, leaders of both countries sent careful, quiet and clear signals of respect for their nation's core interests and willingness to engage cooperatively on important matters of mutual concern.
As he was leading a trade mission to China last week, for example, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke was making headlines in both countries by promoting the value of clean energy technology sales from the United States to China and showcasing a contract a US company had signed to supply components for Chinese wind turbines.
At the same time, Locke told a trade-friendly audience of the dangers to China's own long-term interests of an "increasingly difficult regulatory environment" and protectionist industrial policies that could drive away innovative foreign companies and their investments.
"We are advocating an open environment for innovation and strengthening intellectual property rights," Locke said to a gathering of Hong Kong's American Chamber of Commerce. He was referring to the indigenous innovation policies that "favor companies that conduct research and development (R&D) here in China," he said.
Interestingly, China's Vice-Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan gave an analogous speech two months earlier in Washington during a similar top-level economic and trade mission to the US.
Like his American counterpart, Zhong was speaking to a trade-friendly audience at the US Chamber of Commerce - co-hosted by the US-China Business Council - and he delivered a comparable message. Zhong spoke of the need for expanded cooperation between the two countries, saying China would "fully tap into the technological advantages of the US and the huge market potential in China, and expand bilateral cooperation in trade for services, low-carbon economy, and high-tech products".
He also politely warned of the dangers to the United States' economic recovery of "frequent employment of trade remedy measures" and protectionist policies dealing with a range of issues, and of the potential to the fragile global economic recovery, following the historic near-collapse of global financial markets.
"The world economy is at a critical juncture on its way to recovery," Zhong said. "We should vigorously implement the important consensus reached by our leaders on building a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship in the 21st century."
Zhong added, "We need to give full play to the role of the S&ED and the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and keep the channels open so that these mechanisms can serve as platforms to 'expand cooperation, ease conflict and boost mutual trust'."
When US and Chinese leaders make such statements, one can almost hear the collective sigh of relief among global ministers and financiers. As China and the United States seem well aware, now is no time for increasing tensions between the two giant global economies - often referred to these days as the "G-2" - on trade or on any other issue that might risk unsettling investor and consumer confidence.
Thankfully, both presidents have so far resisted extreme domestic views on pressing matters involving trade and investment. The international community needs China and the US to continue in this spirit of working cooperatively to advance their joint interests at a time of great economic challenge and to look for opportunities to create winning approaches for the peoples of both countries.
Both US and Chinese companies, their employees and customers, will be the beneficiaries, along with the world trading system. Last year, more China-based firms landed on the Fortune list of 500 top global companies than any previous year. A total of 37 Chinese companies made the prestigious list based on revenue, up from 28 the previous year. Ten years ago, that number was eight. Meantime, the number of US-based companies on the list dropped to its lowest level ever - 140.
However, in total, more than a quarter of the top global businesses are still based in the US, while 7 percent are based in China. But the trajectory is clear. Experts are saying that, as China's economy keeps expanding, it is possible to see a quarter of the top global companies come from China in another five to 10 years.
Not only is China business growing organically, it is also expanding through international mergers and acquisitions. According to Ming-Jer Chen, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, the value of foreign mergers and acquisitions initiated by China-based businesses grew at a compound annual growth rate of 51 percent from 2002 to 2008. Chen told Investor's Business Daily last July that this surge in Chinese foreign direct investment is a strong indicator of a much larger global economic role in the years ahead.
That said, the US remains the world's R&D leader across numerous industries, from biotechnology to information systems and new applications in sustainable economic development, with the private sector by far in the lead. Battelle Memorial Institute and R&D Magazine predicted that US industry spending on R&D would reach nearly $253 billion last year, with total innovation spending pegged at approximately $383.5 billion.
Rapidly growing sectors include all aspects of the energy field: renewable, such as solar and wind power, superconductivity, nuclear generation, and high-efficiency oil exploration technologies.
As a result, it should come as no surprise that US and Chinese officials also took another historic step just before the opening of this year's S&ED.
The Sixth Joint Work Group Meeting of the US-China Ten Year Framework (TYF) for Cooperation on Energy and Environment reached agreement on expanding their public-private "ecopartnerships" that are designed to contribute to TYF goals in air, water, transportation, wetlands, nature reserves and protected areas, electricity, and energy efficiency.
The expansion of ecopartnerships, which builds on the first Memorandum of Understanding signed last year by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu and China State Councilor Dai Bingguo, is expected to be announced during the S&ED. State Councilor Dai and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan will be co-chairs of the sessions with Secretary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
These are examples of how more opportunities for private-sector investment between China and the US, particularly in sectors driving sustainable energy development, will be a much-anticipated positive outcome for both countries and for the world.
The writer, a former journalist, is senior vice-president of Fleishman-Hillard's Public Affairs practice group in Washington DC. The opinion is her own.