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US must overcome 'trust deficit' with China

It is more than obvious that neither President Xi Jinping, nor his visitor, US Vice-President Joe Biden, can easily sell to the other their respective country's ideas about the well-hyped East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone despite their personal rapport.

That Xi and Biden managed to keep their differences over the ADIZ out of the spotlight on Wednesday - there was no mention of it when the two spoke to reporters - was a sign that Beijing and Washington understand the significance of maintaining what Biden called "high-level engagement", and are indeed capable of managing their occasionally volatile ties.

As Biden told his Chinese counterpart Vice-President Li Yuanchao, relations continue to mature.

Divergent as they are, China and the United States share a practical need for friendly, or at least non-threatening, relations. Not just because confrontation would be too costly. But because the two economies have become interwoven so tightly that even the average man on the street can tell renewed estrangement would be bad news for both.

With a personal briefing by Xi about the Chinese orientations after the Third Plenum of the CPC's 18th Central Committee, Biden will have an even clearer idea of the potential our transforming economy promises for US economic recovery after talking with Premier Li Keqiang yesterday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has found a land of opportunities here during his visit this week. And, borrowing a line from Biden, the possibilities are endless if the US and China can get their relationship right.

But to make that happen, the two countries must address their conspicuous "trust deficit". The US reaction to China's ADIZ is only the latest reminder of how difficult it is for the two nations to overcome their distrust.

Biden hit the right note on Wednesday in highlighting the need for "a positive notion of each other's motives". Candid and constructive dialogue will make everything easier and truly eliminate long-standing suspicions.

That will be the only way for Washington to convince Beijing of the nature of its pivot to the Asia-Pacific, and to nurture the consensus reached between Xi and US President Barack Obama in June on building a new model of major-country relations.

As long as they can keep their eyes on the big picture and the long term, they will find this relationship much easier to manage than it has been.


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