China-US relations

A great chance to build China-US relations

A flurry of diplomatic activity is expected to lead to a summit between the two presidents, a much-needed opportunity to bridge differences and further common interests

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 1:54am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 1:54am

A positive light is shining on relations between China and the US. Discussions are under way for a meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, and American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Beijing for two days from Saturday. The developments are the result of a series of ever-higher level talks between the two sides, a realisation of the importance of good communications. There is no greater necessity, if Beijing and Washington are to build understanding, work together for mutual gain and avoid conflict.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week spoke pragmatically about ties, painting them in terms of opportunities and benefits. He said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress he believed that by working together, the two countries “could rise above old ideas, open new horizons and build a more robust and mature relationship”. Sentiments were not so hopeful when Trump took office on January 20, his anti-Chinese rhetoric and phone conversation with Taiwan’s leader having created uncertainty. But diplomacy has stepped in and won over, helping set a positive course.

Trump’s phone call to Xi last month, during which a pledge to abide by the one China principle and push for common goals were made, was the ice-breaker. There has since been a flurry of diplomatic activity, with State Councillor Yang Jiechi holding talks with the US president and other top administration officials in Washington, and Wang meeting the secretary of state at the Group of 20 gathering of foreign ministers last week in Germany. Wang praised Tillerson for being “a good listener and communicator”.

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Tillerson, as a businessman, well knows the necessity of communication; it is the key to whether a deal succeeds or fails. He is expected to meet Xi in Beijing and that could well set the stage for the much-needed talks between the presidents. There are numerous critical issues that need to be discussed, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes high among them, but also sensitive matters that are causing friction. Among the problems are allegations by both sides of cyberspying, the deployment in South Korea of an American anti-missile system with radar that can reach deep into Chinese territory, freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea by US navy vessels and Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on Chinese exports.

China’s rise and Washington’s view that it is a challenger have created distrust, and Trump’s election has deepened uncertainty. This year is the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties and that provides an opportunity to assess progress. The upcoming talks are a chance to bridge differences and build on common interests.