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The Globe and Mail

Five key issues that should be on the table for Obama-Xi meeting

Wang Yong is a professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University, and a visiting professor at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia.

Yves Tiberghien is director at the Institute of Asian Research, UBC, and a senior fellow of the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday meets with President Barack Obama at the White House. The meeting of the leaders of the world's two largest economies is crucial for both countries, for Canada and for the world.

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China-U.S. relations are being buffeted by issues such as cybersecurity and the growing strategic rivalry between the established superpower and the rising power. Complex domestic politics in both countries have narrowed the space for co-operation, but the world can't afford a breakdown in China-U.S. relations. Now is the time for creativity and hard work, and Mr. Xi's state visit presents a good chance to do so.

Canadians should be watching, as the meeting may shape our world more than any other event. Here we offer five pieces of advice to the two leaders:

First, they should declare that their countries are not enemies; their common interests are far greater than their differences. Both countries exercise a decisive influence on the shape of the global economy. The slowing of the Chinese economy and its recent market turmoil brought panic to U.S. markets and the rest of the world, underlining the reality of U.S.-China economic interdependence. Each will suffer if either economy takes a wrong turn.

Second, China should be clear that it does not intend to overthrow the international rules and order established since the Second World War. It has benefited from that order over the decades of its own reform. And the U.S. needs to complete the reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other organizations to accommodate the realities of emerging economies. The U.S. should take a more positive approach toward the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank. Through these new development-financing institutions, China is joining in the supply of international public goods and boosting investment in development and infrastructure.

Third, the two leaders should reach a consensus on depoliticizing relations. American political elites must recognize that China-U.S. relations have been vitally important to the U.S. and to the world, and it would be unwise to let election cycles disrupt these relations. Over the past two decades, China has become a "scapegoat" target for American candidates; such rhetoric might serve short-term election interests, but does much to harm to the U.S. reputation and credibility in China. Similarly in China, there are those who take advantage of every chance to paint the U.S. as a country with evil intentions toward China and the world.

Fourth, the two countries should reconfirm a commitment to domestic reform. Although they are at different stages of development, both have experienced high-speed growth and benefited from economic globalization. Now, they face similar challenges, such as redressing the gap between the rich and poor and redefining state-market relations. Since Mr. Xi came to power, China's leadership has recentralized power to focus on anti-corruption and abuse of power by officials, as well as developing big plans for market reform and opening the country to foreign investment. The U.S. faces problems such as the gap in wealth distribution, enhancing infrastructure, and improving public health and education. In each country, clear and present domestic issues demand reform.

Finally, China and the U.S. should work together on free trade and infrastructure initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. Mr. Xi's visit may be an occasion to reassure Washington that China is not interested in excluding the U.S. from the region, and to raise new ideas about co-operation on regional trade arrangements and infrastructure. Restructuring regional security is sensitive and difficult, but China and the U.S. should establish common ground in the interests of peace, stability and growth in the region. Neither side will benefit from confrontation.

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The stakes in the U.S.-China relationship are too great for populist politicians to gamble with. A world where these two cannot compromise or co-operate when it comes to the global economy or global security is not a great world to live in. The stakes for Canada could not be greater. This country can play a leading role in nudging Washington and Beijing toward co-operative global institutions, such as a revised IMF and World Bank, and an enlarged AIIB that sustains the global liberal order. Now is the time for innovation and creative co-operation.

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