NEW YORK, Feb. 16,2015-- U.S. President Barack Obama's recent greeting of the Dalai Lama at a religious event in Washington was an unwise move as it served nothing but to add needless and harmful ambiguities to his policy toward Beijing.
At the annual prayer breakfast in Washington on Feb. 5, Obama, ignoring China's opposition, greeted the Dalai Lama and called him "a good friend," although the man, among his many self-claimed roles, has been a lifelong politician bent on separating Tibet from China.
The salute showed a gross disrespect for China's core interests, and cast a chill on the relations between Washington and Beijing, which has long been unequivocally opposed to any meeting between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders.
Yet a chilly cross-Pacific relationship is clearly not something Washington wants. Just days later, the Obama administration invited Chinese President Xi Jinping for a state visit in September, in a move that was widely considered as in part a remedy for the Dalai Lama episode.
Scheduling a state visit seven months in advance is rare in diplomacy. It shows, to some extent, that Washington is keenly aware of the significance of China-U.S. interaction and the fact that it has more to gain from cooperation with Beijing.
Obama has a far better chance of making headway on a range of global foreign-policy challenges, from the Iranian and Korean Peninsula nuclear issues to terrorism and climate change, if the United States and China collaborate effectively.
There are plenty of reasons for optimism. For one thing, the two presidents have agreed to disagree and showed willingness to sort out the immediate causes of tensions in bilateral ties. This is the first step in resolving any differences.
For another, at last year's APEC summit, Obama and Xi managed to strike a markedly improved tone and announced a number of solid achievements, including a landmark climate deal, a military accord designed to avert clashes, and an understanding to cut tariffs for technology products. That injected vitality into China-U.S. relations.
Now over the course of the next seven months, the two countries need to work ever more closely to further consolidate their relationship with more deliverables. The United States, in particular, should avert reckless political moves that could reverse the positive trend in bilateral ties.
Only in so doing will Xi's state visit to the United States be able to fully play its due role as a historic opportunity to further promote positive engagement between the world's top two economies and the cultivation of a new model of major-country relations.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers spoke for many when he said he could picture a 21st century in which both the United States and China prosper, or one in which both countries fail to prosper, but not one in which one country prospers and the other does not.
This is an important perspective Washington should heed. Obama needs to tread carefully in dealing with issues concerning China's core interests and prevent the relations from suffering unnecessary hiccups.