China and US in talks on upgrading ties

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 November, 2009, 12:00am

China and the US are in talks to build a strategic partnership that could help address nagging suspicions between the two sides.

These include Washington's worry over fast-growing Chinese arms spending, and Beijing's fear that it would be strategically contained by America and its allies, diplomats say.

A Chinese diplomat familiar with preparations for the visit to Shanghai and Beijing, which US President Barack Obama will make from Sunday to November 18, said: 'Diplomats from both nations who are laying the groundwork for Obama's visit are negotiating on an intellectual framework that provides a road map for future relations and upgrades ties to a new level.'

While he refused to disclose details of the framework, the diplomat said its main objective was to provide a regular mechanism for the two sides to build consensus on key issues and take risky guesswork out of a crucial bilateral relationship that would shape the future of the world.

'At the core, US diplomats are pushing to negotiate a framework that would allow a regular consultation to seek agreement, or at least an agreement to disagree, on main strategic issues between the two nations before they are debated internationally,' the diplomat said.

Over the years, scholars and diplomats have attempted to do the same thing. While the diplomat would not discuss details, he said the result would see an upgrading of relations from the days of the George W. Bush administration.

'The basis for negotiation is from the standpoint recently termed by a top US diplomat as 'strategic reassurance',' said the diplomat, who met US Assistant Secretary of State Dr Kurt Campbell, his country's top diplomat on China affairs, who was in Beijing last week to lay the groundwork for Obama's visit. The diplomat was speaking on condition of anonymity. 'The ultimate goal is to reach an agreement on a new framework on which both sides can work to promote their future relations and deal with their suspicions over strategic issues.'

The diplomat quoted Campbell as saying that Washington hoped the summit would produce results on strategic issues, such as developing 'rules of the road for how we co-operate in the future'.

He was referring to a recent statement by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who offered the Obama administration's own take on rapidly evolving Sino-US ties, calling for 'strategic reassurance' in the bilateral relationship.

Before Obama, the US' China policy was believed to be conducted under a guideline of what was termed by then deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick in September 2005 as 'stake holder'. US suspicions include China's fast military build-up, human rights, its massive export sector and its 'mercantilist approach' towards acquiring resources and energy. On the Chinese side, some believe Washington wants to contain China's rise by denying it access to markets, energy sources and high-end technology. They argue that, despite Beijing's repeated assurances about its 'peaceful rise', the US continues to hedge against China and spies on its activities.

Chinese negotiators are seeking to promote ties to a level described as 'strategic partner', which Beijing has built with other nations but has been rebuffed by previous [US] administrations, the diplomat said.

Beijing wants Obama to make a public statement recognising China's sovereignty over Tibet and promise to refrain from arms sales to Taiwan. Chinese diplomats familiar with the situation say Chinese negotiators are bargaining for an Obama statement on Tibet and Taiwan in exchange for China's commitment to accept the 'strategic reassurance' tag, which includes measures to promote transparency of its military and co-operation on non-proliferation and disarmament.