Before Xi's visit to the United States, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Cui Tiankai, bemoaned the two countries' “trust deficit” and suggested that they give full attention to fixing it. He's right about the problem, but in any relationship, trust is only built over time. It requires clarity of intention, predictability of action, and a willingness to give before taking. And all that is sorely lacking between Washington and China.
This election year may tempt both critics of the Bush administration and hard-liners within it to attack U.S. policy on China. That would be a mistake, however, for engaging Beijing has worked well. Economic growth in China has spurred political liberalization, legal reform, opening of the media, and popular activism. The Bush administration -- and those who aspire to replace it -- should not let electoral tactics jeopardize sound policy. With respect to China, that means staying the course.
China gambled that economic growth would outpace environmental harm. It lost. Fixing the resultant damage may break the stalemate in U.S.-Chinese relations.