Amid deepening divisions over the disputed South China Sea, the US and China today kicked off their annual strategic dialogue with President calling on the two nations to “manage their differences” to avoid any “major disturbance” in bilateral ties.
Differences between China and the US are quite normal, Xi told the joint opening ceremony of the eighth China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and the seventh China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE) in Beijing.
Xi addressed the opening ceremony of the two-day bilateral dialogue, attended among others by Secretary of State John Kerry, as he called on the US and China two nations to “properly manage differences and sensitive issues”.
“So long as the two sides tackle differences and sensitive issues in the principle of mutual respect and equality, bilateral relations can avoid major disturbance,” Xi said, adding that China and the US should strengthen communication and cooperation on Asia-Pacific affairs.
Referring to the growing divisions between the two over the South China Sea (SCS), Xi said the broad Pacific Ocean should not become an arena for rivalry, but a big platform for inclusive cooperation. The S&ED provided a key informal platform for the world’s two largest economies to discuss strategic, political and economic issues of mutual concern.
While the SCS issue which has now become a major flash point between the two countries was expected to dominate the talks, a host of other issues including Taiwan, Tibet and India’s inclusion in NSG were also expected to figure.
The US has expressed its firm backing for India’s inclusion in the 48-member nuclear club building on the India-US nuclear accord but China has been insisting that there should be consensus among members about inclusion of nations who have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has not signed the NPT on the ground that it is discriminatory. Officials here are hopeful of a solution as China-US dialogue is taking place ahead of two of NSG’s key plenary meetings on June 9 in Vienna and June 24 in Seoul during which the issue is expected to come up.
As India pressed its case, Pakistan too has applied amid reports that China is trying to push the case of its all-weather ally. India itself has taken up this issue with top Chinese leadership as part of high-profile diplomacy specially during last month’s visit here by President Pranab Mukherjee. Ahead of the dialogue, Chinese officials said besides the South China Sea, China will bring up topics related to its major concerns, including the Taiwan question, Tibet and maritime security. The two countries have differing pursuits on major issues at the strategic level. However, the two still have many common interests, official media here quoted Chinese officials as saying earlier.
During the talks, top officials of both countries would discuss issues relating to climate change, micro economics and policy, trade and investment, cooperation in agriculture, science and technology and innovation, cooperation between the US Federal Reserve and People’s Bank of China, and people-to-people to cultural exchanges.
Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the SCS issue will be brought to the table because it has affected two-way ties, and the US has been “undermining regional stability” while “rebalancing to Asia” in the past two years. China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
The US-China dialogue, which started in 2009, has become the highest-level, regular bilateral communication channel for the world’s two largest economies to compare notes on key issues concerning diplomacy, security and economy. Top officials from the two countries’ education, culture, health, science and technology, women, sports and youth sectors will attend the talks. This is the eighth dialogue and will be the last to be co-chaired by President Barack Obama’s administration.