On Jan. 1, 1979, in the midst of the Cold War, China and the United States entered into official diplomatic relations. Thirty-five years later, both countries enjoy one of the most important and dynamic relationships in the world, surpassing nearly all expectations.
In 1979, bilateral trade was $2.5 billion; last year it hit $500 billion. Today 10,000 people travel across the Pacific each day, compared with 10,000 each year 35 years ago. In 1979, only 52 Chinese students studied in the U.S.; in 2012 150,000 did so. We also boast some 240 pairs of sister cities and states.
When he first visited China as a young senator in 1979, Vice President Joe Biden rightly stated that China’s growth would benefit the U.S. and the world. This reflected his farsighted vision. Economic and cultural exchanges not only benefit China and the U.S., they also promote global peace and prosperity. Over the past three decades, both countries have learned that it is always better to engage in dialogue rather than confrontation, cooperation rather than containment, and deal with each other as partners rather than rivals.
Our shared material interests are clear. China now has the second-largest economy in the world, but we are still a developing country and have a long way to go before joining the U.S. and others in the ranks of developed economies. Once a producer of low-end products, China is now moving up the value chain, presenting rare opportunities for increased China-U.S. cooperation in such fields as energy, environmental protection and infrastructure.
On a deeper level, the key to sound relations between states lies in the affinity between their peoples, which stems from mutual understanding. Local and people-to-people exchanges have always been a strong driving force behind China-U.S. relations. The past 35 years have shown us that with closer cooperation, not just at the federal level but also at the city and state level, comes a stronger bilateral relationship. We need to continue these cultural and economic partnerships, and we need to deepen and expand them where possible.
Clearly, the China-U.S. relationship should be based on mutual respect, seeking common ground while narrowing differences. It is only natural that two nations in different regions of the world and at different stages of economic development will have disagreements. But as long as we treat each other on an equal footing, accommodate each other’s core interests and major concerns, and manage our differences, we can enjoy a sound relationship and mutual development. This is a strategic imperative for our two countries. It is also necessary to maintain stability in the global economy and the welfare of the international community. At the diplomatic level, we should always make full use of dialogue and consultations, and honor our agreements with real actions.
Today, China-U.S. relations are at a new historical starting point. During their summit in California last June, President Xi Jinping and President Obama agreed to develop a new model of major-country relations between China and the U.S. At that meeting, they found common ground on the need to maintain coordination and cooperation within the multilateral and regional economic framework of the G-20 as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, further pursue trade and investment liberalization, oppose protectionism, reduce greenhouse gases, and decrease the number of cross-border cyberattacks.
Last November, at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, comprehensive economic and social reforms were presented that will boost China’s economic development and provide even more opportunities for China-U.S. cooperation. In the next five years, China plans to import $10 trillion worth of foreign goods and invest more than $500 billion overseas.
During that same time, more than 400 million Chinese tourists will make overseas trips, spending their money in foreign markets. According to a recent report by the China-United States Exchange Foundation, China and the U.S. will become each other’s largest trading partner by 2022. China’s annual imports from the U.S. will surpass $450 billion, creating more than 2.5 million American jobs.
I am fully convinced that with a foundation for cooperation as strong as ever and with 35 years of experience behind us, China and the U.S. will achieve the goal of developing a new model of major-country relations and bring enormous benefits to the Chinese and American people.
Mr. Sun is ambassador, consul general of the People’s Republic of China in New York.