Positive signs emerge from Sino-US talks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 4:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 4:38am

The just-ended annual strategic and economic dialogue between China and the US could not have been held at a more appropriate time. Territorial disputes, American allegations of cyberspying and Japan's new-found military posture have put relations in a downward spiral. The high-level talks are less about outcomes than conversation and on that score, they lived up to expectations. As has always been the case with the relationship, there continue to be ups and downs, but as long as the sides are talking, there is always a chance of progress.

There was no sign of discord in the closing statements. President Xi Jinping said after meeting visiting Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that China would make "unrelenting efforts" to put Sino-US ties on a healthy track. Kerry was similarly positive, saying the discussions showed the sides could improve co-operation while managing differences. The comments reflect the understanding, expressed by Xi on the first day of talks, that confrontation would be a disaster for the nations and the world.

The dialogue has been designed with this in mind. With strategic and economic tracks, there is a possibility of relations moving forward in one area if the other proves problematic. The intractability of current strategic circumstances ensured that the talks in Beijing promptly turned to economics and several modest deals were struck, among them an agreement to conclude negotiations on the text of a bilateral investment treaty this year. They will also push for a stepped-up defence dialogue and improved military risk-reduction measures.

Focusing on bilateral trade makes sense given the opportunities afforded by China's economic reforms and the recovery of the US economy. That can help fill the gaps in ties created by disputes over military build-ups, cyberspying, intellectual property, human rights and the territorial rows with Washington's allies that are heightening tensions. Noticeable at this year's dialogue was a willingness by the sides to more openly and forcefully air concerns. It is a positive sign of the maturity of the six-year process.

The discussions should stabilise the relationship and prevent further deterioration. Stronger economic relations will be a good foundation for improvements elsewhere in ties. They can also work together on more issues of joint concern, North Korea and climate change among them.