The United States and China are planning to resume high-level diplomatic talks in October, returning to the negotiating table to discuss diplomatic issues while the countries remain locked in an escalating trade dispute.
The second round of U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (DSD) have not been formally announced, but are expected take place in Beijing in mid-October after months of delay, according to diplomatic sources. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plan to lead the U.S. delegation to meet with their Chinese counterparts.
U.S. analysts are viewing the meeting as way to explore whether there are areas where they can work together.
“I think we have seen the nadir of US-China relations in recent months. This appears an attempt to restore regular dialogue channels on the gamut of issues for what is a very large and complex relationship,” said Bob Manning, a China expert at the Atlantic Council.
Talks in limbo
Substantial U.S.-China talks have been in limbo amid heated bilateral trade disputes. Diplomatic sources indicate for months, Washington has been responding to China’s keen interest in resuming diplomatic and security talks with lukewarm enthusiasm.
That has led analysts like Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at Center for International and Strategic Studies, to take a more pessimistic view.
“The main focus of both the US and China is on the trade conflict and with additional tariffs likely to be implemented in the coming days and weeks, I think the atmosphere won’t be very positive for the DSD.”
“Trump also continues to criticize China’s policy toward North Korea, so cooperation on that issue is diminishing,” she said.
Ahead of the possible talks, some U.S. analysts are pushing the Trump administration to stick with its tough demands.
“The United States should consider working more closely with China only when Chinese involvement decreases the costs and/or increases the likelihood of success of a particular U.S. policy,” American Enterprise Institute’s scholar Oriana Skylar Mastro told lawmakers Wednesday.
“We should not cooperate simply for the sake of generating goodwill or momentum for cooperation in another area,” said Mastro in a statement during the recent Senate subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.
North Korea talks stalled
On North Korea, China’s trading with Pyongyang and infringing sanctions are blamed for stalling diplomatic efforts to bring a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula.
“We would expect China, just like other countries, to adhere to the UN Security Council resolutions that it too voted for,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
Her comments came after President Donald Trump blamed China for being unhelpful in a recent tweet that also announced the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned trip to North Korea in late August. Trump claimed the deepening U.S.-China trade fight was leading Beijing to obstruct Washington's talks with Pyongyang.
A U.S. defense department report published last month says that even though Beijing supports some sanctions against Pyongyang, Chinese leaders are reluctant to embrace measures that they assess will risk destabilizing North Korea.
“This included, for example, a reluctance to support sanctions that completely cut off oil supplies to North Korea,” according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments.
On South China Sea, the Pentagon report said China’s actions in the contested islands are “focused on political and economic overtures to diminish regional concern over China’s infrastructure buildup” with the intention to control the disputed areas effectively.
South China Sea
China claims more than 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea, which is rich in fisheries, oil and natural gas and important for shipping lanes.
Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also claim parts of the of the sea as their own.
While the United States is not a claimant to the sovereignty of disputed islands in the South China Sea, Washington has said China’s efforts to militarize outposts in the contested waters endanger the free flow of trade and undermine regional stability, a claim that Beijing rebuts.
Washington and Beijing held the inaugural round of Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (DSD) in June last year. It is one of the four bilateral talks initiated under President Donald Trump’s administration. The others are the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, the Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue, and the Social and Cultural Issues Dialogue.