Stakes have never been higher for US-China cooperation to get into gear

SCMP | May 22 , 2024

By Wang Huiyao | Founder of the Center for China and Globalization(CCG)

■ Recent high-level talks between China and the US on climate change and ongoing wars highlight the potential for successful collaboration.

■ The current moment calls for even more bilateral coordination on the environment, peacekeeping, AI governance and reforming multilateral institutions.


The visit of China’s special envoy for climate change, Liu Zhenmin, to the United States on May 8-9 was one of the many recent interactions highlighting the renewed momentum in US-China relations. The visit included discussions with the new US climate envoy John Podesta on deploying technologies to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases like methane.

This event underscores a broader trend of increased interactions between the US and China, such as the recent Harvard Kennedy School China Conference, where the responsibilities of both nations in maintaining global peace were emphasised.

A notable example of successful cooperation is the recent handling of Iran-Israel tensions. Intelligence about a potential escalation after Israel’s attack on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to call Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and ask for China’s intervention.

Wang contacted his Iranian counterpart, urging restraint. This intervention no doubt helped temper Iran’s retaliation against Israel, showcasing how China and the US can collaborate for world peace.

In an increasingly interconnected world beset by conflict and facing profound challenges in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), climate change, cybersecurity and space exploration, the need for US-China cooperation has never been more pressing.

As two of the world’s superpowers, both nations bear a unique and shared moral responsibility to address these critical issues collaboratively. Their partnership is essential not only for resolving existing tensions but also for steering the world towards a more stable and prosperous future.

During his recent visit to Beijing, Blinken spoke of the duty great nations share to ensure stability, a sentiment echoed by Wang. This dialogue builds on the 2023 “San Francisco vision” and the phone call in April this year between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two sides have continued to communicate over the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel’s war on Gaza, signalling a mutual desire to ease various tensions through diplomacy and dialogue. Looking ahead, they should deepen cooperation within multilateral frameworks like the United Nations to address regional conflicts, a profound test for the rules-based global order.

In moving forward, it is essential that the two countries focus on several key areas of cooperation. Foremost among these is the issue of peace and stability, which stands as the most pressing challenge facing humanity today. The escalating violence in Gaza and the Russia-Ukraine war acutely underscore the urgent need for global stability and joint efforts to ensure peace.

The US and China should take proactive steps to mediate ongoing conflicts. President Xi has already stepped up China’s intervention efforts in the Gaza crisis, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, urging Israel to refrain from its proposed ground offensive in Rafah and advocating for the necessary humanitarian corridors and a two-state solution. Similarly, Beijing has encouraged Russia and Ukraine to begin peace talks to prevent further escalation. Both China and the US can also do more to work through the UN to establish and support peacekeeping missions and diplomatic initiatives in conflict zones.

Another critical area of cooperation is on climate change. The US and China, as the world’s largest carbon emitters, have a responsibility to lead global efforts in mitigating their impact on the climate. More than other nations, they should jointly spearhead initiatives within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Potential collaborative projects could include funding for renewable energy research, sharing green technologies, and providing financial as well as technical support to developing countries.

Meanwhile, the rise of AI presents both opportunities and challenges that demand cooperative governance. On May 14, the first US-China intergovernmental dialogue on AI took place in Geneva. Yang Tao, director general of the foreign ministry’s North American and Oceanian affairs department, led the Chinese delegation while Tarun Chhabra, senior director for technology and national security at the National Security Council, and Seth Center, the State Department’s acting special envoy for critical and emerging technology, headed the US side.

The delegations discussed their approaches to managing AI risks and emphasised the importance of ensuring AI technologies are beneficial, safe and equitable. There is an urgent need for the US and China to collaborate on establishing international norms and standards for AI development and deployment. Bilateral agreements on AI ethics and safety protocols could help mitigate risks and ensure that AI technologies serve the greater good.

The strengthening of multilateral institutions is essential to building a new international order that reflects contemporary realities. The US and China should champion reform of global institutions like the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, advocating for more inclusive decision-making processes that empower developing countries. By doing so, they will enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of these institutions.

In addition to national-level exchanges, promoting people-to-people exchanges is also vital for reducing mutual distrust and fostering understanding between the people of these two nations. Expanding educational and cultural exchanges, easing visa restrictions and encouraging collaborative academic research are essential steps. These initiatives can help build trust and dispel misconceptions, laying the groundwork for a more cooperative future.

The need for US-China cooperation could not be more urgent. By rising above short-sighted rivalries, the two Pacific powers can work to build a cooperative international order that promotes security for humanity as a whole rather just their own national security interests. The choices the US and China make today will resonate across generations and hopefully shape a world where peace and prosperity are achieved through collective action and shared responsibility.


From SCMP, 2024-5-22