Will Xi Jinping visit US this year? There’ll be good news, replies China’s foreign minister

At his annual press conference, Wang Yi says a Xi-Trump meeting is in the works, blames US and Seoul over tensions in the Korean Peninsula and praises Philippines’ Duterte for defusing South China Sea dispute

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 1:10pm

Welcome to the South China Morning Post’s coverage of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s annual press conference on Wednesday on the sidelines of the country’s annual plenary meetings.

During the press conference in Beijing that began in the morning, Wang spoke on a wide range of issues including Sino-US relations, the situation in the Korean Peninsula, the long-standing South China Sea dispute and the Middle East peace process.

Read on to see the highlights of Wang’s comments as they flowed in. And thanks to all who tuned in for our live updates, which has now wrapped up.

1pm

Asked at the close of his press conference whether President Xi Jinping would visit the United States this year, Wang replied: “There will be good news this year.”

12.20pm

Wang said China welcomed the imminent visit of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia and wanted to play a “necessary role” in the Middle East peace process.

Fighting terrorism, pursuing political resolutions and keeping the United Nations at the driver’s seat were three indispensable principles that must be held on to as the Middle East situation reached a critical crossroad, he said.

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“There are both risks to worse turbulence but also hopes for peace,” Wang said.

The foreign minister said the Iran nuclear deal was an example of political resolution to disputes that should be well implemented, and that Beijing would like to mediate for the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel.

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Wang also said China hoped Saudi Arabia and Iran could solve their problems through equal and friendly consultations.

“As a common friend to both sides, China is willing to play a necessary role if needed,” he said.

12.10pm

Wang, noting that this year marked the 45th anniversary of the normalisation of Sino-Japanese ties, called on Tokyo to learn from the lessons of its history of military expansionism and cast aside its concerns over China’s rise.

Blaming Japan for the prolonged tensions between the two countries, the Chinese foreign minister insisted that Beijing had always wanted to bring bilateral ties back on track.

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“The key is for Japan to adopt the right kind of mindset to accept the reality of China’s rise,” he said.

Wang also blamed Seoul and Tokyo for the postponement of the trilateral summit meeting between China, South Korea and Japan.

“I am afraid we need to handle well the issues that are hampering the healthy development of our relations to pave the way for such a leadership meeting,” he said.

11.50am

Wang praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for helping to deescalate tensions over the South China Sea dispute.

The turnaround in relations between China and the Philippines would benefit both nations and the entire region, he said.

Noting that the newly-appointed Commerce Minister Zhong Shan was on a trip to the Philippines, Wang said Beijing had stepped up investment in the Southeast Asian nation over various dam, rail and bridge projects.

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The warming ties between the two states since Duterte’s Beijing trip late last year had helped “scatter the dark clouds” hanging over Beijing’s relations with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), he said.

Relations between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbours have been markedly strained over the maritime disputes.

Wang said Beijing and Asean would continue to expand cooperation along the Mekong River region, known as Lancang in China.

11.35am

On Brexit, Wang said China would continue to support European integration even after Britain left the European Union.

Beijing would like to see a more united, stable and prosperous EU, he said.

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“We believe the challenges confronting the EU could be an opportunity for the Union to become more mature,” Wang said. “We value the strategic importance and role of Europe.”

11.30am

Wang said the situation on the South China Sea had calmed “visibly” since the international court ruling on the long-standing maritime dispute in July.

He said Beijing and its neighbours of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had made headway in their talks over a long-overdue code of conduct. The draft framework had been completed recently, he added.

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The Chinese foreign minister also warned against Washington’s repeated freedom of navigation operations amid concerns over US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement of a significant increase in the US defence budget.

“If someone is still trying to make waves [in the South China Sea], they will have no support and will meet oppositions from all parties,” Wang said, without naming the US.

Beijing would not allow disruption of the peace and stability in the South China Sea, he added.

11.20am

Wang warned South Korea to “cease on the brink of the precipice” and stop the deployment of the US anti-missile system THAAD.

He made the warning after it was reported on Tuesday that some equipment for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system had been delivered from the US to South Korea.

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Wang said the THAAD monitoring and early warning radars reached far beyond the Korean Peninsula and “undermines China’s strategic security”.

“It may very well make [South Korea] less secure,” Wang said. “We strongly advice the ROK (Republic of Korea) not to pursue this course of action. Otherwise they will only end up hurting themselves and others.”

11am

Wang blamed both North Korea’s pursuit of its missile and nuclear programme and the US-led alliance’s military drills for the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

He called on both sides to show restraint to avoid a full-fledged crisis.

The Korean Peninsula situation was “like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way”.

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North Korea’s recent missile tests “ignored opposition from international community” and the joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea had significantly added pressure on Pyongyang, he said.

Wang said Pyongyang should suspend its missile and nuclear activities while the US and South Korea must halt their large-scale drills.

“Nuclear weapons will not bring security. The use of force will bring no solution,” he said, adding that the tensions could be eased by “addressing the parties’ concerns in a reciprocal manner”.

He also reiterated Beijing’s calls to start talks between North Korea, the US and other relevant parties.

10.50am

On Sino-US relations, Wang said a meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump was being arranged.

The two sides were in communication over arrangements for the meeting, he said.

“We are having fruitful communication in realising exchanges between our two presidents as well as on all other levels,” Wang told the press conference in Beijing.

He said last month’s phone call between the two heads of state had paved the way for stable ties.

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Wang urged both nations to overcome their difference and the “zero sum” mindset and look towards building a “mature” relationship.

“Our interests are closely interwined ... It is impossible to build one’s success at the expense of the other,” he said.

Wang praised new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom he met at the G20 foreign minister’s meeting last month, as a good “listener and communicator”.

He said he hoped and believed he and Tillerson could build a good working relationship.