Frequent talks an encouraging sign for China, US relationship

The Paris climate change deal and the agreement to end Iran’s nuclear proliferation proved what can be achieved when the two nations cooperate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 1:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 1:47am

There can be no room for misunderstanding between China and the US, the world’s two most important economies. That is why US Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-day visit this week was so important. High-level talks have to be a cornerstone of the relationship to ensure that disputes can be properly managed and common ground found to bridge differences. President Xi Jinping (習近平) put it succinctly after meeting Kerry on Wednesday, saying that when the two nations “work together, they can make big things happen that are good for the world”.

The Paris climate change deal and the agreement to end Iran’s nuclear proliferation proved what can be achieved when China and the US cooperate; both nations were instrumental in helping bring about the pacts. Given their economic strength, that same formula is vital if the world is to navigate safely through the current bout of global financial uncertainty. But there are other issues of vital concern raised during Kerry’s visit, North Korea’s latest nuclear test and the South China Sea dispute among them. On each there are differences of opinion and the most effective way of handling them is through dialogue.

Both sides agreed during the talks that there was a need for the UN Security Council to draft a new resolution on North Korea, although there are obvious limits as to how far Beijing can go with fresh sanctions. China does not have as much influence on the isolationist nation as some in the US may think and would be vulnerable to a flood of refugees should the North’s economy collapse. Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) assured that claims of Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea were unfounded, although he also stressed that the issue was a matter of sovereignty. The US has to similarly be obligated to clarify intentions in the region, its directing of military ships and planes to the waters in the name of freedom of navigation causing unnecessary turbulence to relations.

There are bound to be moments of suspicion, a lack of trust and misunderstandings between a rising power and an existing one. Both nations are aware of the need to carefully manage their relations; Xi and his US counterpart, Barack Obama, agreed at their summit last September to build a new type of great-power relationship. That involves a strong foundation. They have held talks frequently over the past year and are expected to meet again at a summit in the US in March. Such regularity is an encouraging sign for closer communication and dialogue at the highest level.