China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue
Dr Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, VIF

Amid the heightening tension between China and the United States (US) over the Korean issue, on 21 June 2017, the first China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (D&SD) was held at the US State Department in Washington. The D & SD dialogue was setup during the Mar-a- Lago talks in April between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. The first dialogue was attended by the State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Fang Fenghui (Chief of China’s Military Commission Joint Staff Department) from the Chinese side and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis from the US.1

It is one of the four high-level mechanisms established during the meeting, the other three are dialogues on economics, on law enforcement and cyber security, and social, cultural and people to people exchanges. It replaces the “strategic track” of the previous China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The S&ED was started in 2009 replacing the former Senior Dialogue and the Strategic Economic Dialogue. The former S&ED had wide-ranging of “issues and agencies and meeting” on the contrary the D&SD will be more narrowly focused on key issues. According to Susan Thorton, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, “now the dialogues are separated, elevated and are dealt more narrowly.”

Major Outcome of the Dialogue

International issues of immediate concern affecting bilateral relations, such as North Korea, the South China Sea, terrorism, human rights and defence cooperation were extensively discussed between the two countries.

Amongst all, the North Korean issue topped the agenda. Just before the starting of the talks, Donald Trump had tweeted, “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Cleary, the tweet suggested that China’s efforts are not working and insufficient. 2 The US reiterated to Chinese side that they have a “diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region”. China reiterated its position of sticking to the de-nuclearisation of the Peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability of the Peninsula and solving issues through consultation and negotiation. China proposed for considering a “dual-track approach” to promoting de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. As a first step, Pyongyang may suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for the suspension of large-scale Washington-Seoul military exercises. China also utilised the opportunity to express its anxiety on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system by the US in the Republic of Korea.3 During the talks, the two sides discussed the issue of revenue generation in North Korea.It was agreed that companies from both the countries should not do business with any United Nations (UN)-designated North Korean entities in accordance with these resolutions. There was a consensus to speed-up the efforts to curtail sources of revenue for North Korea.4 Notably, North Korea conducts about 90 percent trade through China and its trade has expanded even though it had compiled with UN sanctions and stopped buying North Korean coal.5

On the issue of the South China Sea, the US opposed China’s “excessive maritime claims” unsupported by international law. China once again affirmed its sovereign claim over the Spratly/Nansha Islands and used the opportunity to point out that the US should not take sides in the disputed area. Although, the issue of South China Sea is creating tensions in the bilateral relation, it was not discussed in details. On the issue of terrorism, the US asked China to support the Iraqi government in ‘meaningful ways’ on the issue of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its rebuilding process. Prospects of China-US military cooperation to defeat the ISIS were also discussed. Additionally, they discussed the situation in the Middle East, Afghanistan and other international and regional issues of common concerns.

On the military-to-military relationship, both sides acknowledge the fact that they should promote the expansion and upgrade the bilateral military relations at a ‘new starting point’, actively seek for and develop constructive, practical and effective cooperation. It was agreed that there should be annual exchange programme between the Defence Ministers of the two countries at an early date. Certain new areas of strategic concern like space, cyberspace, nuclear forces and non-proliferation issues were also discussed. China raised the issue of Taiwan and Tibet with the US. The US responded that it firmly upholds the one-China policy. On the other hand, the US also raised the human rights issue and its concerns over China’s human rights record. Additionally, it was also agreed to deepen cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster management, fighting piracy and military medical science.

There was no joint statement released after the dialogue nor was there any tangible outcome on the North Korea nuclear crisis or the South China Sea issue. But progress was made in fostering greater cooperation between the two countries in areas, such as military to military measures and high-level visits. The two sides acknowledge the fact that there should be more high-level exchanges. The two presidents will meet at G20 summit in Hamburg and Donald Trump will make a state visit to China this year. Rex Tillerson said, Donald Trump “looks forward to his state visit to China.” The dialogue provided a platform for China and the US to discuss issues of immediate relevance and an opportunity to consider how both the countries are going to engage with one another over the next 40 years.6 Susan Thorton has hinted that there may be another round of talks later this year. Hence a dialogue of this nature is important to maintain close contact and avoid any miscalculation in the future.

References

1. China, U.S. kick off inaugural diplomatic, security dialogue accessed at http://en.people.cn/n3/2017/0622/c90000-9231542.html

2. China ‘willing to work with US’ to ease tensions over North Korea, top diplomat tells trump accessed athttp://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2099715/china-willing-work-us-ease-tensions-over-north-korea

3. First China-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue held in Washington D.C. of the US accessed at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1472727.shtml

4. Secretary of Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis at a Joint Press Availability accessed at https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/06/272103.htm

5. China says its trade with North Korea has increased accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/world/asia/china-north-korea-trade-coal-nuclear.html

6. Secretary of Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis at a Joint Press Availability accessed at https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2017/06/272103.htm


Image Source: http://abcnews.go.com/images/International/RT-james-mattis--rex-tillerson-02-jpo-170621.jpg

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