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US-China talks to focus on touchy issues

The eighth Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the US and China will be held in Beijing next week. Analyst Jin Canrong talks to DW about the current state of the bilateral partnership and the problems afflicting it.

DW: Relations between the US and China haven’t been smooth sailing in recent times, with both countries engaged in public spats over a range of issues such as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Against this backdrop, what can we expect from this year’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED)?

Jin Canrong: This year’s S&ED is taking place under very difficult circumstances, particularly as a result of rising tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Another important factor is that US President Barack Obama’s term ends in about six months, and it is unclear who will be his successor and whether the next administration will follow the course of the present government with regard to China.

However, I believe China will hold open talks with the US in the upcoming dialogue.

What are the main topics on the agenda?

In the economic area, talks will be held to advance a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which would help facilitate an opening up of the sectors closed to foreign direct investment in China.

On the strategic front, there will be discussions on Taiwan. The political situation on the island changed following the inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen as president, leading to growing distrust between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. But both Beijing and Washington want to avoid any untoward incidents.

Another topic of discussion will be the territorial tiffs in the South China Sea (SCS). While there is disagreement between the two sides over the SCS, they both share a common interest in preventing the disputes from escalating into a major military conflict.

China Jin Canrong Interview in BeijingCanrong: Both Beijing and Washington agree that Pyongyang must not develop nuclear weapons and they both can work together toward that goal

The Philippines lodged a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over territorial claims in the SCS. And the verdict is expected in June. How do you think it will impact Sino-US ties?

The Chinese government has already stated that it does not accept the tribunal’s jurisdiction over this matter and will not abide by its decision. While Washington has accused China of violating international law, Beijing has criticized the US for its intervening in the process – as over 3,000 documents submitted to the tribunal as evidence came from the US.

Beijing views it as a political move.

It is also possible that the US would take punitive measures against China after the tribunal delivered its verdict. And then Beijing might respond accordingly.

Taiwan now has a president who is viewed as being critical of China. In this context, do you see any need for the US to revise its Taiwan policy?

Top defense officials from nearly 20 countries are gathering in Singapore for a three-day security summit. It comes amid rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific. (03.06.2016)

The US has a strong interest in ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. A large US delegation was present at the swearing-in ceremony of the new administration of President Tsai Ing-wen.

The position of the US government is consistent. Washington wants to ensure the status quo and stability and doesn’t want to see any new conflict between the two sides of the strait.

North Korea continues to provoke the international community with its nuclear and missile tests. Is there a possibility for the US and China to join hands against Pyongyang?

North Korea’s nuclear program is certainly on the agenda. Both Beijing and Washington agree that Pyongyang must not develop nuclear weapons and they both can work together toward that goal.

But China also has big worries, because North Korea is its immediate neighbor. China has already implemented the sanctions imposed against the regime in Pyongyang, and Beijing will not want to stoke more hostility from the North. That’s why leaders in both countries have continued to engage with each other, with Chinese President Xi Jinping recently receiving a high-level delegation from the North.

Over North Korea, the interests and the approaches of China and the US may be different, but they share a common objective.

So you remain optimistic that both countries will closely cooperate?

There will continue to be disagreements between the US and China, but I believe these problems can and will be resolved through discussions and negotiations. And that’s why I remain confident about the future of the bilateral partnership.

Jin Canrong is a professor and Associate Dean with the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. He is also a visiting professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, and the Weilun Chair Professor at Tsinghua University.

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