The differences in strategies used by the US and China for the Asia region have become pronounced. Their struggle for leadership in building the regional order seems poised to intensify further.
The sixth round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue has been held in Beijing. Cabinet member-level representatives from both sides discussed a wide range of issues at the two-day meeting.
For many observers, the major focus of the meeting was how both sides would handle Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call to US President Barack Obama last year for a “new type of great-power relations”.
Xi has a vision of a Pacific Ocean divided into US and Chinese spheres of influence, in which Beijing can protect its “core interests” such as territories. In his speech at the opening ceremony of the strategic dialogue, Xi also called for building such a major-power relationship. He had previously raised an “Asian security concept” that would remove the United States from the Asian regional security order.
In a statement regarding the dialogue, Obama said the US remains committed to “increased practical cooperation and constructive management of differences” with China. While Washington is willing to cooperate with Beijing, Obama also clearly indicated his nation is determined to continue its involvement in Asia. While the US and China might be in the same bed, they are clearly having different dreams.
We applaud Obama for adhering to the “pivot to Asia” line embodied by his visit to the region in April.
In a reference to China’s pushy maritime expansion in the East China Sea and South China Sea, US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the dialogue that nations cannot “be permitted simply to act unilaterally to advance territorial claims or interests.” He urged China to abide by international rules.
Patchy progress at talks
Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi expressed opposition to US support for Japan and Southeast Asian nations in disputes with China. He urged the United States not to take sides but to adopt a “just and objective position”. However, China’s line of argument trying to justify its attempts to change the status quo through force will never win the support of nations affected by its manoeuvres.
Washington also demanded that the Chinese military halt its cyberattacks on the US, and called for the restart of a working group on cybersecurity. China rejected accusations it is involved in cyberattacks, and showed no sign of ending its refusal to resume the working group talks.
China’s cyberattacks are a concern shared by the international community. If China wishes to proclaim itself to be a major power, then it has a responsibility to engage properly in such talks.
In the economic field, the US and China confirmed they would accelerate bilateral cooperation toward crafting a new framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. China is the world’s biggest emitter of such gases, and the US is the second largest. For any such framework to be effective, it will require the active participation of both these nations.
The US again prodded China to move more toward a market-based exchange rate for the yuan. However, China remained reluctant on this issue, and they were unable to narrow their differences much.
Before the latest round of talks, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Kerry held talks over the telephone, and the two countries used other channels to exchange opinions in detail.
Many of United States’ assertions are shared by Japan and its interests. It is essential that Japan strengthen solidarity with the US in its policies toward China.