What makes U.S-China relations most unique, is the fact that both countries' endless disputes can never entirely succeed in jeopardizing their relationship. Somehow, in the heat of controversy, top officials representing both countries find a reason to shake hands, smile and talk about trade.
China's grievance regarding the American bombing of their embassy in Yugoslavia on May 7, which was spun by the Chinese government, media and public as an intentional hostility, seems to have faded only a few months after the fury it sparked.
Following allegations of Chinese nuclear weapons espionage, the United States, has found in its heart the "kindness' to lobby for China's permanent membership within the World Trade Organization. Yet, everything has a price, a fact that both governments know very well, and exercise in their political bargains.
Over a year ago, U.S. President Bill Clinton and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin met in China. The visit was described by experts as the beginning of a new peaceful era between the two. However, since then the era has received several fatal shocks which have converted this optimism into fear that a second phase of the Cold War may very well come into being.
After many blows were received through the Belgrade embassy bombing and earlier through spying charges, a great panic was created by China's military threats to Taiwan. Following the Taiwanese officials' announcement, proposing the declaration of an independent Taiwanese state, and China's quest to halt such a step, the gap once more widened between the U.S and China.
North Korea's endeavor to launch a new round of ballistic missile tests was met with American, Japanese and Taiwanese planning for a major missile defense system. China once again experienced a great sense of panic from these events, and particularly from the build-up of the American military presence in the area.
Yet, when frictions rose to the point in which confrontation appeared imminent, last Saturday's meeting, in Auckland, New Zealand, between Clinton and Zemin restored both leader's friendly facades and paved the road for further official meetings, smiles and handshakes.
Although it is certain that neither leader has overlooked nor underestimated the intensity of what is at stake regarding the relationship between these nations, both leaders are acting according to what their national duty perceives as essential.
The two presidents, who met in advance at last weekend's annual meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders, were notably eager to repair their countries' ties. The cheerful 1 1/2 hour meeting between the two in New Zealand immediately resulted in positive signs when orders where given to American and Chinese representatives to resume trade negotiations. This warming has been viewed as a gesture that the embassy affair has been put aside, at least for the time being.
China, who has been attempting to enter the WTO for the last 13 years, knows that for its endeavor to become a reality, smooth relations with the U.S are essential. In order for the Chinese to join the organization comprised of 134 countries, market-opening accords with the U.S, the European Union and other major trading partners must be reached.
The United States is eager to "strike a new trade deal with China", according to President Clinton, but is not yet satisfied with Chinese concessions regarding the degree of willingness detected in respect to the opening of their markets.
Clinton rejected China's offer of a broad market-opening suggested by Premier Zhu Rongji, as "insufficient." Americans are demanding more concessions on textiles, banking, and telecommunications services. Some optimistic US officials hoped that China could join the WTO by Nov. 30, when the organization will hold a meeting of trade ministers in Seattle, Washington.
In order for these expectations to be met, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Chinese Trade minister Shi Guangsheng, who have been trying to reach an agreement regarding Chinese entry to the WTO in New Zealand, must come to a compromise very soon. Although, neither negotiators have agreed to comment on their extensive talks, the talks are said to continue for more detailed discussions.
It has been predicted that China will be the first to break in the negotiations, as economic difficulties have ignited fear of a new currency devaluation. With this in mind, China is in great need for stronger exports and foreign exchange. The U.S. however, in spite of its great vested interest in a profitable relationship with China, is hoping to ease the recent Chinese-Taiwanese dispute so that it may can focus on its own dilemma in North Korea as well as its proposed role in East Timor.
No one can guarantee that Chinese-American relations will not stumble once again as new uncertainties and predicaments surface. But it is almost indisputable that no matter how deep these disputes may be, striking new deals shall always be a reason for cheerful reconciliation.