John Kerry's China mission is focused on Korean crisis

Secretary of state's first China visit, originally set as little more than a diplomatic handshake, is now an urgent meeting of the two powers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 5:37am

The main mission of US Secretary of State John Kerry's first visit to China today was to work out a diplomatic agenda between the two new administrations following major cabinet reshuffles in both capitals.

But the more compelling issue in the Korean Peninsula will dominate Kerry's first encounter with Chinese leaders and be a test of how far the two major powers can join hands to defuse the crisis, analysts said.

President Barack Obama began his second term in January with a major reshuffle of his cabinet, while China has just completed its once-in-a-decade power transition, with a new government headed by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang installed in March. Both nations have undergone major reshuffles of their diplomatic corps, with Kerry and Wang Yi , one of his Chinese counterparts as foreign minister, having just taken office; the senior foreign affairs portfolio went to State Councillor Yang Jiechi, formerly foreign minister.

Beijing has also appointed Cui Tiankai, a former student of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as its ambassador in Washington.

"The visit is expected to do some ground-laying work," said Tao Wenzhao , a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of American Studies.

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited China three weeks ago. But Tao said Kerry, as the top US diplomat, and his Chinese counterparts are expected to work out an overall diplomatic agenda for the two administrations. Tao said China was expected to push what Xi has called a "new-style relationship between world powers".

Shi Yinhong , director of the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University, said Kerry came to China with a short-term and long-term mission.

The latter involves a wide range of issues, from trade disputes and the yuan's exchange rate, to intellectual property, cybersecurity and global security. The short-term focus is on the Korean crisis.

John Lee, a Michael Hintze fellow with the University of Sydney's Centre for International Security Studies, said Kerry was likely to emphasise two things: first, the cyberespionage and attacks on US government and industry servers and computers emanating from China; and second, that China must play by the rules when it comes to trade.

Shi said China's chief concern was about Obama's "pivot to Asia".

Kerry comes to China with hopes of closer co-operation. Before his departure, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described "good unity" between the US and China as a joint response to North Korea.

Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said a key aspect of Kerry's visit would be "to talk more about the DPRK (North Korea) and to try to carry forward this discussion with the Chinese over how much they can, and are willing, to use their unique leverage to restrain its bellicose attitude … and get back to a more fruitful negotiating position."

Professor Zhu Feng, an expert on Sino-US affairs with Peking University's school of international studies, said Sino-US co-operation on Korea was now more imperative as recent North Korean actions had undermined regional security.

Professor Wang Xinsheng , a Peking University historian specialising in Northeast Asia, said any conflict would have a long-lasting negative impact on regional peace and security.