Why It Matters

Taking stock of US-China ties

Much like the stock market, relations between China and the United States are marked by turbulence.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum held in Singapore, tensions over issues such as the South China Sea culminated in a slanging match between their representatives.

Just days later, tensions cooled as both sides played nice and trotted out cooperation initiatives at the bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a two-day event that ended in Beijing on Tuesday.

It is easy to worry about such volatility and turn pessimistic over what is arguably the world's most consequential bilateral relationship.

But some highs and lows are to be expected in this relationship between the US, an established global power, and China, a rising power that is increasingly wielding its influence globally.

Friction is also to be expected as both sides seek to work better together and speak frankly about issues. The alternative - of each doing its own thing or not being candid over their bottom line on core interests - might produce a worse outcome.

As it is, there are grounds to be optimistic over Sino-US ties after both sides agreed in 2013 to explore a "new type of major-power relationship" that pursues cooperation and avoids conflict.

A global pact on climate change last December and recent groundbreaking sanctions to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions might not have been possible without Sino-US cooperation.

Still, there are potential risks that could thwart the progress made so far. For instance, how both sides will respond to an impending ruling by an international court on China's territorial claims in the South China Sea is uncertain. But perhaps just like stock-market players, the key lies in whether China and the US are able to stomach short-term volatility and avoid actions that hurt the potential benefits of investing in a long-term cooperative partnership.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Taking stock of US-China ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe