Top US officials due to visit Beijing to cement ties with new leadership

Big-hitters in the Obama administration set to fly into Beijing over next few weeks to instigate closer working relationship with new leadership

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 March, 2013, 5:09am

Two top-ranking US cabinet members will be visiting China in the next month after the installation of the new leadership.

Analysts say it suggests a common desire by the leaders of the world's two most powerful nations to work more closely together on a range of issues.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will arrive today, with Secretary of State John Kerry to follow during a tour of three Northeast Asian countries next month.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will also visit next month.

Analysts said the revived diplomatic effort was a sign that US President Barack Obama wanted a closer working relationship with the new government

The news comes after several relatively quiet months in Sino-US diplomacy, with both nations more focused on major government reshuffles.

Analysts said the revived diplomatic effort was a sign that US President Barack Obama wanted a closer working relationship with the new government, headed by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang .

"I guess it shows that now the long leadership transition is over, for the US and China at least, it is immediately down to business," said Kerry Brown, executive director of the University of Sydney's China Studies Centre.

Brown said the "speed of these visits, and the fact that they are at the most senior level, is recognition by the US that China is a major partner".

He added: "It is also recognition that with two new very senior appointments at state and treasury, these leaders need to get on first-name terms with their interlocutors in Beijing as soon as possible."

Jin Canrong , associate dean of Renmin University's school of international relations, said it reflected the "leaders' desire for further co-operation and for quick action to deal with challenges facing them".

On Thursday, Obama was among the first world leaders to call Xi to congratulate him on becoming president and to discuss future relations.

Jin said the visits were aimed at familiarisation, with both nations just having established their new finance and diplomacy teams. Secondly, they were to work out a medium-term diplomatic agenda for the next four years of the US administration.

Analysts said issues that required consultation and action included the heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of North Korea's third nuclear test and the heated row between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkakus by Tokyo.

Another was sovereignty disputes involving China and several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.

Claims that China was behind the hacking of US computers have also become a hot topic.

Beijing is searching for a response to the Obama administration's strategic "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific region, a move many Chinese interpret as a bid to contain the country's rise. At a recent news conference, Yang Jiechi , China's top diplomat, said Beijing welcomed the US playing a "constructive role" in the Asia-Pacific region, but "at the same time, the US side should respect the Chinese side's interests and concerns". Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai , expected to be China's next ambassador to the US, has recently highlighted the heightened US military presence in the Asia-Pacific as a hindrance to redefining relations.

Jin said both Beijing and Washington were eager to find new ways to avoid confrontation as increasingly far-reaching Chinese interests overlapped with those of the US. Economic matters are high on agenda for both countries, the world's two largest economies.

The US Treasury Department said Lew was keen for Beijing and Washington to develop closer economic and business ties. It said his delegation would discuss "efforts to level the playing field and create new opportunities for US workers and businesses".

Brown said neither side could afford any diplomatic glitches in the next few months, in view of the immense financial challenges facing the US and "the need for the new leadership in Beijing to get their heads around their new responsibilities as soon as possible".

When Xi visited the US in February last year, he declared his desire to build "new type of major power relationship".