The issue of trust is critical in Sino-American relations, but can trust be achieved between these great nations?
China and the United States cannot really trust each other, at least not for the near-term, because of several areas of disagreement. These core disagreements include the future of Taiwan, control of and access to the South China Sea, missile and perhaps weapons of mass destruction assistance from China to countries hostile to the United States, democracy and human rights, U.S. strategic deployments around the periphery of China, instability in North Korea, and competing influences in Asia.
If not on trust, then on what can a stable Sino-American relationship be built? Mutual interests in regional peace, stability, and prosperity certainly are key. But the depth of disagreement between China and the United States requires more than tacit acknowledgement of mutual interests.
It is vital that multi-layered mechanisms for the discussion and management of disagreements be established, so that each side is confident the other understands its position and no mistakes are made due to misperceptions. This engagement process can, over time, improve communications and mutual understanding. The issues may or may not be resolved through this process of dialogue, but the process will reduce the possibility of flashpoints suddenly occurring which might draw the two sides into serious confrontation.
August 26, 2012