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US, China Strike Conciliatory Tone as Annual Talks Begin

  • Shannon Van Sant

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with China's President Xi Jinping after the Joint Opening Session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue known as the "S&ED" at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, July 9, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with China's President Xi Jinping after the Joint Opening Session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue known as the "S&ED" at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, July 9, 2014.

Top Chinese and United States officials are emphasizing cooperation as they begin two days of annual talks in Beijing on Wednesday.

At an opening ceremony of the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which took place at the same compound where Richard Nixon first shook hands with Mao Zedong in 1972, Chinese President Xi Jinping said confrontation between the U.S. and China would "definitely be a disaster."

"Sino-U.S. cooperation can be a significant achievement that is beneficial to both sides and to the world," said Xi. "China-U.S. confrontation, to the two countries and the world, would definitely be a disaster. Under these circumstances, we on both sides should look far into the distance, strengthen and persist on cooperation, and avoid confrontation."

That sentiment was repeated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who are leading the U.S. delegation.

Kerry said the United States is not trying to contain China, but hopes it becomes "peaceful, stable and prosperous" and contributes to regional stability.

"And despite our differences, our two nations have the ability to find common ground," Kerry said. "That's the foundation on which we need to build decades of prosperity for the future, and also build possibilities of stability and peace at the same time."

While conciliatory public statements are a standard feature of the yearly talks, in private meetings both sides look to deal with sensitive issues that have challenged bilateral relations.

Ties between the two countries have deteriorated over the last year. China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone over disputed waters with Japan, and its construction of a billion dollar oil rig in the contested South China Sea, have raised tensions with China and its neighbors, and in turn the United States.

The United States officially takes no sides in the rival claims, but ahead of the talks a senior U.S. official called some of China's claims "problematic" and a cause of regional tensions.

Both countries have also accused the other of cyber espionage, and earlier this year China pulled out of talks on the issue after Washington charged five Chinese military officers with computer theft of trade secrets — charges China angrily disputes.

Another specific area of disagreement involves economic matters, such as the value of China's currency and U.S. access to Chinese markets.

These episodes, along with the broader U.S. pivot to Asia that has refocused military assets in the region and led to new security agreements with Washington’s allies, has led to Chinese accusations that the U.S. is trying to contain China’s rise.

Some analysts believe that Xi Jinping’s agenda includes asserting China as the dominant, leading power in Asia and playing a greater role in international affairs around the world.

“I think it’s quite natural that the boundary of power will have to be negotiated and renegotiated again and again in this process between China and the United States, and it’s very important for the United States to accept China as one of the dominant powers in the region,” said Wang Dong, an international studies professor at Peking University.

North Korea

The two sides could find some common ground on how to deal with North Korea's nuclear program. China, North Korea's only major ally, has agreed in recent years to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

There could also be cooperation on global warming. U.S. and Chinese officials signed eight separate agreements Tuesday on sharing information and technology on climate change. They cover clean coal technology and power plants that can capture carbon dioxide before it is poured into the atmosphere.

In a statement sent to today’s gathering, President Barack Obama said the United States seeks to build a new model of relations with Beijing, built around common challenges and mutual responsibilities.

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