Sino-US relations

Will ‘diplomatic and security dialogue’ help ease China-US tensions?

New discussion platform replaces the oft-criticised Strategic and Economic Dialogue ahead of US President Donald Trump’s China visit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:28pm

Senior officials from China and the United States will meet for a “diplomatic and security dialogue” on Wednesday amid rising tensions ahead of US President Donald Trump’s China trip this fall.

The talks are one of four discussion mechanisms replacing the Strategic and Economic Dialogue that was used by the administration of the former US president, Barack Obama, and the first formal meeting between officials of the two nations since Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in April.

The latest talks are expected to further set the tone for the two nations to contain their simmering tensions and prepare for Trump’s visit to China, expected to occur in November.

Amid North Korea’s multiple ballistic missile tests, the death of American student Otto Warmbier soon after his release from a Pyongyang prison and the Trump administration’s first freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, regional security tension has been escalating. The forum is regarded as a way for the two major powers to maintain close contact and avoid miscommunication and misjudgment.

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And in the face of growing global challenges, the new dialogue serves as a medium for the world’s reigning super power and a rising player to closely discuss issues of mutual concern, including cooperating on countering terrorism.

What is the China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue?

The China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington inaugurates a high-level mechanism for an exchange of ideas and concerns between the two countries. It comes out of the meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in April. It replaces the “strategic track” of the previous China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which lasted during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016.

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The former strategic and economic dialogue was often criticised for focusing too much on ceremony, and for being an ineffective tool for producing a consensus from the large number of officials on hand.

Under previous US presidents, the dialogue location alternated annually between Washington and Beijing. With the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, however, another round of talks possibly could be held in the second half of the year, according to Susan Thornton, acting assistant US secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Who will attend the diplomatic and security dialogue?

At this 2+2 style meeting on Wednesday, State Councillor Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s Joint Staff department, will represent China, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis will represent the United States.

What will they talk about?

The dialogue is said to be focussing more specifically on key issues with in-depth discussions.

Most notably, the North Korea nuclear and missile issue has been given top priority at the meeting. The two sides are aiming at “a peaceful resolution”, according to Thornton.

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Discussion on the South China Sea and maritime disputes also are on the agenda. Although these matters might seem less important than others, the two sides disagree in these areas fundamentally. The US opposes China’s construction and militarisation in the South China Sea region, whereas China insists its sovereignty rights entitle it to implement self-defence tactics, in particular against the US Navy’s freedom of navigation operations.

Working to defeat ISIS and other risk reduction efforts and military-to-military relations also are among the topics of the meeting.

What can we expect from it?

The meeting is unlikely to produce a solution to the North Korea nuclear crisis, or resolve the South China Sea dispute. But progress could be made in fostering greater cooperation between the two countries in other areas, such as military-to-military measures.

No joint statement will come out of the ministerial meeting, but some kind of a media statement or fact sheet will be issued, Thornton said.