Starting a New Phase in Sino-US Relations

By Max Baucus

 

I often say this, and I mean it from the heart: serving as the United States Ambassador to China is the best job I’ve ever had. It has been the greatest pleasure to work with Chinese and Americans to advance the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

 

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. The United States just had an election and, with our country’s transition to a new administration, the time has come to bid you farewell as the United States Ambassador. When you say “goodbye” in Chinese it means “see you again,” and that’s how I like to think of this farewell – I’ll be seeing you again!

 

Before my wife Mel and I depart from Beijing for a new chapter in our lives, I would like to share some parting thoughts with you as we start a new phase in our countries’ relationship, at a time fraught with global challenges – from economic uncertainty to climate change to terrorism.

 

Over my 35 years in the United States Senate and especially my time as the United States Ambassador, I’ve witnessed first-hand China’s remarkable transformation and re-emergence on the global stage.

 

Since Deng Xiaoping launched China’s opening up and reform three decades ago, China has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, becoming the world’s second-largest economy. Our economies, in turn, have grown increasingly interconnected, with more than $650 billion in annual bilateral trade.

 

I’ve seen China’s rise play out in impressive ways. China joined the United States to help lead the world toward an ambitious agreement on climate change in Paris. It played a positive role in the global response to Ebola, working closely with the United States and other partners. China served as the host of the Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and can play an equally important role in seeing those talks resumed.

 

These examples make clear the benefits to China and the world that come from China’s engagement and responsible leadership. US policy, decades old and upheld by successive administrations from both parties, has been to welcome the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous China. We welcome China as a global leader that assumes its responsibilities within the transparent, rules-based system underpinning the peace and prosperity that the Asia-Pacific region has enjoyed for many decades.

 

I worked hard as a U.S. Senator to get China into the World Trade Organization because I knew it would be good for China, good for the United States, and good for the entire world. And it was! Looking ahead, we hope China will work closely with the new US administration to continue this process of opening up to the world.

 

We live in a time of interconnectedness, unlike any other in history. Our countries’ relationship, in fact, is a testament to and a direct benefactor of these trends.

 

And a key part of keeping this going in the right direction will be fostering an encouraging environment for American and foreign companies to invest and do business here – just as Chinese companies can expect to do in the United States.

 

Strengthening innovation, one of China’s top priorities, is another critical factor. That’s why we encourage China to continue to open up, which will help enable talent – like that of Jack Ma, Tu Youyou, or Wang Jianlin – to flourish across the globe. Similarly, we hope that China will welcome the constructive role of non-government organizations that help societies drive innovation, contribute to social stability and bring us together to protect the environment.

 

Another key element will be ensuring that China’s peaceful rise is bolstered by regional engagement and creative diplomacy that manages disputes in ways that benefit all, in line with President Xi and President Obama’s efforts during their numerous meetings that I’ve had the privilege to join.

 

At the end of the day, I can’t stress enough the importance for us all to ask honest, constructive, good-faith questions, and to really listen to each other’s point of view. As my mentor and former United States Senator from Montana Mike Mansfield once said, “Remember, the other person isn’t always wrong, and you’re not always right.” This is the path to honest dialogue.

 

While this is a time of transition, and some question the path ahead, I think both of our countries agree on the importance of making this relationship work. That has been true since President Nixon first came to China and met with Chairman Mao in what is called “the week that changed the world.” Their work was carried on by President Carter and Deng Xiaoping, who normalized relations between our two countries in 1979. Our leaders have changed, and we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve never given up our shared goal to create a better future for our kids and grandchildren.

 

I’ve seen this commitment first-hand, time and time again. When I first came to China, I promised President Xi that I would visit all of China’s provinces – a goal I achieved last October. What I learned along the way is that it doesn’t matter if you’re American or Chinese, we all basically want the same things in life – a good job, a good education for our children, and a clean, safe environment to live in. That’s a big part of the American dream. And it’s part of what I’ve come to learn is the Chinese dream.

 

With patience, persistence and the positive attitude I’ve seen in students, everyday people, businesspeople, or government officials throughout this country – from Qufu to Kunming, from Shanghai to Urumqi – I know there is nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together. And when we succeed – whether that’s working on those many issues on which we agree, or being frank and wisely in managing our differences – the world stands to benefit.

 

(The author is US ambassador in China. The Chinese edition of this article was published on the People’s Daily Thursday.)

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