China 101

What’s standing in the way of improving China, US ties?

As the world’s two largest economies seek ways to resolve their differences and boost trade we consider some of the obstacles they have yet to overcome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 9:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:25pm

China and the United States held high-level security talks on Wednesday as part of a series of new efforts to improve bilateral relations.

The diplomatic dialogue is one of four high-level mechanisms established during the Mar-a-Lago meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in Florida in April. The three others will deal with economics, law enforcement and cyber security, and social, cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

North Korea looms over talks between China and US

In the coming months, the two sides will use the platforms to help find ways to improve relations and prevent bilateral tensions from escalating.

Here is an overview of some of the scheduled events as well as a summary of the key obstacles the two powers will seek to overcome.

What’s planned ...

High level visits and meetings

Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner have been invited to visit China this year, ahead of a planned visit by the president himself in November. Both Ivanka and Kushner have official roles in the White House, and Kushner is seen as a key player in exchanges between Beijing and Washington.

China invites Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to Beijing, sources say

Prior to that, Trump is expected to meet Xi next month on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, according to a statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Military exchanges

China’s PLA Navy has been invited to attend next year’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise. It participated in the event – the world’s largest multinational maritime military exercise – for the first time in 2014.

It is also encouraging that the two sides have decided to hold talks between the PLA Joint Staff Department and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

China and the US have also agreed to carry out more substantive cooperation to deal with non-traditional security challenges such as disaster relief and anti-terrorism.


The Mar-a-Lago meeting between Xi and Trump in April ended with a 100-day plan aimed at improving trade cooperation between the world’s two largest economies and narrowing a substantial US trade deficit. The 100 days will come to an end next month.

China earlier lifted a 13-year import ban on US beef, which industry insiders see as a win-win situation that is expected to drive economic growth for both countries.

Xi, Trump agree on trade, military talks but appear at odds over North Korea

The main obstacles ...

North Korea

Although China and the US have enhanced their cooperation on North Korea, the issue remains a thorny one, especially after the death earlier this week of American student Otto Warmbier.

After North Korea last month staged several ballistic missile launches, Washington hopes Beijing will help it to increase the pressure on Pyongyang by agreeing to measures such as cutting off the supply of crude oil to the reclusive state, and punishing Chinese companies and individuals that engage in illegal business with it. China, however, has refused to increase sanctions to levels it believes would result in the collapse of North Korea’s economy. Beijing is also frustrated by the deployment of a US anti-missile system in South Korea.

US arms sales to Taiwan

The US upholds a promise to protect Taiwan should the island’s security be threatened by a third party. There is also support in the US for Washington continuing to sell weapons to Taipei to shore up its abilities to protect itself. Beijing, however, regards such sales as infringements of the One China policy, as it regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, which should not be engaging in arms sales with the US.

Expedite Taiwan arms sales, US House committee urges Trump administration

South China Sea

The latest diplomatic and security dialogue comes almost a month after the Trump administration conducted its first freedom of navigation exercise within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef – a contested outcrop in the South China Sea.

The operation angered Beijing, which urged Washington to stop its “provocative actions”.

Although the waters in the South China Sea have been relatively quiet since the Philippines adopted a friendly posture towards China, the issue continues to simmer and any escalation could sour US-China relations.