US wants China as a partner, not opponent: Kerry

Kerry WangDays after accusing China of stoking tensions in South China Sea, US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Beijing to be a cooperative partner, saying Washington is neither interested in conflict nor confrontation with it.

“We welcome the rise of China as a global partner, hopefully, as a powerful economy, as a full participating constructive member of the international community,” said Mr Kerry in Sydney. Mr Kerry was in Australia for annual talks on security and foreign policy. “And we want China to participate in constructive ways, whether it is in the South China Sea, or with respect to Japan, and South Korea, with North Korea, with other issues that we face.”

Last week, at the ASEAN meeting in Myanmar, the US had suggested a proposal for a freeze on provocative acts in the resource-rich South China Sea. China promptly rejected the US proposal and resorted to some sharp rhetoric. “Some countries outside the region are restless, and stir up tensions… Might their intention be to create chaos in the region…China and ASEAN are totally able to safeguard well the peace and stability of South China Sea,” said China’s Foreign Minsiter Wang Yi.

Secretary Kerry pointed out that while there were always differences between countries, there were issues on which all parties could agree on a diplomatic path forward. “Because everybody in the world understands that the world will be better off if great power nations are finding ways to cooperate and not confront each other,” he said.

Kerry’s comments brought to the fore the complex play of the relationship between US and China, which has elements of cooperation as well as competition and rivalry.

The US and China are the world’s first and second largest economies and deeply linked through trade, investment and finance. The US-China trade has reached staggering levels of $562 billion in 2013 and China is currently the second largest trading partner of US, its third largest export market and biggest source of imports. China has also invested a large share in US treasury securities, amounting to around $1.6 trillion. The US-China relations are thus the most important bilateral relationship and have a critical bearing on global security.

The burgeoning economic relationship has, however, not been matched by strategic trust, with both countries seeing a potential hidden agenda in each other’s diplomatic manouevering. The concept of “new type of great power relations,” as enunciated by China’s President Xi Jinping, also aims to avoid conflict and stabilise relations between the US and China.

‘Don’t choose between US and China’

In recent statements, the US has indicated its desire to construct a cooperative and constructive relationship with China. During his visit to India last week, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said that India “need not choose between closer partnership with America and improved ties with China.”

In a repudiation of the oft-cited containment theory, Hagel also highlighted that China can work “cooperatively” with both India and US.  “In our relations with Beijing, both Delhi and Washington seek to manage competition but avoid the traps of rivalry. We will continue to seek a stable and peaceful order in which China is a fellow trustee”, said Hagel. He was delivering the keynote lecture on “achieving the potential of the US-India strategic partnership”, which was organized by New Delhi-based think-tank, Observer Research Foundation.

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