I worked for Henry Kissinger when America first engaged with China in the 1970s. This is why I think the two countries still have a chance to mend their relations

Until recently, there was little hope that the deterioration in relations between China and the US could be reversed. Now, however, some signs of progress are emerging: Senior-level talks are taking place—and more are being planned to address key issues. This does not guarantee major changes, but even small changes are welcome at this point.

Both countries will benefit from dialogues on many important and often highly divisive issues in the coming months, building towards a possible meeting between US President Joe Biden and the President of China that Xi Jinping at the APEC Summit to be held in San Francisco in mid-November.

If used wisely, this series of talks will enable the two countries to better understand each other’s fundamental goals, express what they see as major differences and important interests, and find ways to strengthen mutual respect. and mutual trust.

Such talks are especially important today, following significant personnel changes among high-level officials in Beijing. These new Chinese officials and their American counterparts need opportunities to get to know each other and develop relationships. The talks also come at a time when control of the US House of Representatives has changed hands. China can be briefed by US officials about the new leadership in Congress and what they may mean for future China-US relations and negotiations.

Not all the goals mentioned above are easy to achieve. Many months—or even years—may be needed to make significant progress in some areas. In some cases, we just need to agree to disagree and find a constructive framework for managing our differences.

It is useful to recognize that the kind of relationship we have had for several decades in the past is unlikely in the future. Relationships tend to be more strained and, among other things, more politically confrontational. On the other hand, recognizing a new set of realities and opportunities can lay the groundwork for a good, constructive, and realistic relationship in the future.

The first calculation is that we cannot organize our bilateral relations or manage the new world order on the basis of continued tension between our two countries – or by seeing it as a zero -sum competition. Nor can we do this by engaging in rhetorical challenges to, or criticism of, the legitimacy of one country’s system of governance in another. There are significant differences in historical cultures and political systems that must be recognized and respected.

For future relations to be productive, there must be mutual respect for each country’s culture and system. And we must find reasonable goals. For example, for Washington, trying to slow down or block China’s economic growth and development is not a realistic—or profitable—option. China has the technical capabilities and human skills to sustain significant growth for the long term. And the impressive technological progress China has made should encourage the US to focus more of its energy on its own internal development at home—building its own 21st-century technical capabilities. and strengthening education at all levels in the fields of science, mathematics, technology. , and engineering.

Attempting to restrict or restrict the growth of China’s economic relations with other countries is both unrealistic and counterproductive. Most countries, including US allies, seek good trade and investment relations with China. For many, China is, and will remain, their largest trading partner.

To address key issues in greater depth, an improved and more regular high-level dialogue on many issues is critical. I had the privilege of being on the staff of Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council in the early 1970s, when the dialogue between China and the US was just beginning. The initial talks were more about each country’s broad goals than specifics. This led to a series of mutual understandings over the next few years. Our leaders did not set out to solve all the issues from the beginning. Major parts of the agreement set the stage for future steps toward greater normalization in the period that followed.

Therefore, I was encouraged that President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, recently met with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission, Wang Li, to address a wide range of bilateral and international issues. Most importantly, the two sides agreed “to maintain this important strategic channel of communication.” This is a healthy step.

The US Secretary of State and China’s top foreign policy official should also hold a series of regular meetings to better understand each other’s regional and geopolitical goals and manage their differences. Similarly, the meetings between the US Treasury Secretary and the Chinese finance minister can lead to understanding and cooperation on bilateral and global issues, as happened in the 2008 financial crisis when their cooperation was very good and significant in one you solution.

The two countries must also effectively deal with trade and investment relations, which have been a source of tension between us for several years. Commerce Minister Wang Wentao will soon meet with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

These meetings are unlikely to produce any quick solutions—but they are a step in the right direction. A major challenge is that increasing trade and investment issues cannot be separated from security issues. Both sides want to protect their advanced technologies, especially those with military applications, and avoid being vulnerable to the other’s possible strategic or political leverage.

In addition, it would be good for the two countries to agree on a communication channel and regularly scheduled meetings between the top military leaders of the two sides to understand the strategic objectives of each country and avoid conflict and miscalculation.

In a wide range of non-strategic areas, the two economies can gain a lot from each other and trade and invest equally. This can only happen if the local policies, sanctions, and rules of each country are not applied in a way that discriminates against the other. Mutual understanding is necessary to accomplish this. And since many other countries have an interest in the developing global economic order, China and the US have an interest in expanding their participation in many aspects of these discussions.

There are many other areas, including climate change and cooperation in medical research and disease prevention, where continued dialogue among scientists and researchers can bring significant benefits. Great progress has already been made in these areas for the benefit of both countries.

Finally, summits between heads of state are very important. The APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in November in San Francisco is the best opportunity for the next meeting between our presidents. We should welcome President Xi to the US for this important meeting of Pacific Leaders and an opportunity to defuse tensions.

Government officials work best when faced with deadlines, and now there is a great mobilization of key agencies and staff on both sides of the Pacific to prepare a constructive agenda and constructive consequences.

The goal is not to cover every issue or every detail. This is to discuss the broad goals of each country, identify some key initiatives that have the potential for progress and agree on ways to build a mutually beneficial and stable relationship in the future. . This could be a big step towards a more constructive relationship for the countries and the world.

Robert Hormats is a former Under Secretary of State for Economic, Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and the author of The Price of Freedom: Paying for America’s Wars.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of luck.

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