Sino-US dialogue raises hopes for smoother ties

By Ei Sun Oh Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/26 19:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Mar-a-Lago meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump earlier this year could be said to have set a new tone and expectations for closer and better relations between China and the US. 

Farsighted and pragmatic in their approach, the two presidents introduced a comprehensive dialogue mechanism that comprises four high-level dialogues on diplomacy and security, economics, law enforcement and cyber strategy, and social and people-to-people issues. These are intended to provide more in-depth focus to broadening cooperation and managing differences than the previous Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Last week, the first Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (DSD) was held in Washington. China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi and PLA Chief of General Staff Fang Fenghui met their American counterparts, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

On the top of their agenda was undoubtedly the tense situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. In particular, the intermittent but continuing nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea remain a serious concern not only for the two superpowers but for other neighboring countries as well. 

In no uncertain terms, China and the US reiterated their resolve toward a completely, verifiably and irreversibly denuclearized Korean Peninsula. On this critical point, the two superpowers seem to concur with each other. But there is no point glossing over their differences in viewing the larger Korean Peninsula picture.

China is of the opinion that the US should engage in direct negotiations with Pyongyang without setting high hurdles. The US, on the other hand, premises any such direct talks on having satisfied a number of preconditions, including halting its glaring weapons tests.

In addition, the US, and in particular the present Trump administration, has long held the view that China, as North Korea's largest trading partner, exerts "unique leverage" in persuading the North to abandon its weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program.

As the first round of the DSD concluded, it would appear that the two superpowers are at least more accommodative of each other's positions. They vowed to both "fully and strictly" implement North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions (mostly imposing economic and other sanctions on North Korea), and also to promote "dialogue and negotiation," which apparently does not rule out direct talks.

A similar accommodative mood may also be discerned when it comes to another thorny issue, that of the South China Sea (SCS). China holds very dearly the territorial integrity over the parts of the SCS of which it claims sovereignty, and has emphasized its preference for bilateral negotiations in resolving the SCS dispute. 

The US has a somewhat contradictory approach to this. Although it has not yet ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it often urges SCS disputants to use the UNCLOS arbitration mechanisms.

The DSD consensus appears to strike a balance between the two sides. They support dispute resolution "based on friendly consultations and negotiations," but also according to UNCLOS. Their mutual support for management of SCS disputes through dialogue is of course comforting to other regional countries. 

Of similar interest to regional countries are two other aspects of this inaugural round of the DSD. One is the deepening of the two superpowers' cooperation in, among other areas, humanitarian assistance and disaster management, as well as fighting piracy. Natural disasters know no national boundaries and affect many Southeast Asian countries. The annual typhoons which sweep across the Philippines come to mind.

By the same token, it is also no secret that the Sulu Sea which straddles the southern Philippines and my home state of Sabah in Malaysia are infested with rampant piracy masqueraded as terrorism. We certainly hope that Sino-US cooperation in addressing these challenges will help alleviate our urgent concerns.

More broadly speaking, the global community may also be said to be elated by at least three aspects of this round of DSD outcomes. The first is their desire to reduce miscalculation risk (which would of course create global consequences) by implementing confidence-building mechanisms such as rules of encounters between the two militaries and nuclear security cooperation.

Second is the two superpowers' commitment to strengthen peacekeeping and public health capacity-building in "third" countries, which hopefully can fill up glaring gaps in many parts of the developing world.

And third, in this uncertain time of almost daily terrorist attacks in all corners of the world, is the two superpowers' resolve to combat terrorism by sharing information, keeping close eyes on terrorist use of the Internet, preventing movements of terrorists and restricting their illicit finance.

The world would like to see China and the US deepen their understanding and cooperation, and in the process create more public goods for all. The forthcoming rounds of their comprehensive dialogues will be closely watched with heightened expectations.

The author is a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus