US, China conclude talks with stress on strong ties

US, China conclude talks with stress on strong ties
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) makes a toast between Chinese Vice Premiers Liu Yandong (L) and State Councilor Yang Jiechi at a joint banquet at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) at the State Department in Washington June 23, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

THE high-level US-China meetings ended on Wednesday in much the same way they began: with leaders hailing the strong bilateral relationship while also taking jabs at each other on issues like maritime and cyber security.

Much of the two-day US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) had been marked in equal parts by comity and conflict and the same mood was prevalent during the closing session.

This time, it was the Chinese who made the stronger remarks, with State Councillor Yang Jiechi calling on the United States to "respect and accommodate the interests and concerns of China and handle differences and sensitive issues with caution".

Speaking through an interpreter, he firmly countered US insinuations that China was engaging in state-sponsored hacking.

"China affirmed its firm opposition and crackdown on all forms of cyber hacking, as well as China's readiness for co-operation with the US on cyber security on the basis of mutual respect and equality and mutual benefit.

"China urged the US to respect facts and work together with China to improve the cyber relations between the two countries," he said.

Earlier in the day, US President Barack Obama had raised concerns with the Chinese leaders over cyber security and maritime issues. A statement from the White House said that Mr Obama had urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions.

In the weeks leading up to the dialogue, Sino-US ties had been strained due to US claims that China-based hackers were behind an attack that compromised data on millions of current and former federal employees.

The South China Sea was another source of contention on the final day of talks, and Mr Yang again held little back when countering US calls for China to cease what Washington terms its destabilising actions.

"Navigation freedom in the South China Sea is guaranteed; we do believe that there will not be any issue or problem with navigation freedom in the future. We hope that the US can be impartial and objective to serve peace and stability in this region."

Mr Yang added that China would work with ASEAN to advance the consultation on a Code of Conduct to manage disputes but maintained its "firm determination to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights".

Both sides, however, also highlighted progress made at the dialogue. Economically, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew indicated that the two sides made headway on several sticking points.

Both the US and China agreed to make the negotiation of a bilateral investment treaty a high priority, an important commitment given that progress on the agreement had thus far been slow.

The US also pledged to quickly implement quota reform at the International Monetary Fund to reflect the growing importance of China, while Beijing said it would minimise its interventions in the foreign exchange market.

Both sides also announced another slew of initiatives on environmental issues, including to co-operate on protecting oceans.

At the end of the talks, the State Department listed 127 outcomes and areas of co-operation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also sought to play down suggestions that contentious issues had clouded the dialogue.

He stressed, for instance, that though both sides spoke frankly on cyber security, there was no confrontation.

Said Stimson Centre senior associate Yun Sun: "Given all the recent disturbances, the S&ED successfully showed the world that we (the US and China) have our differences yet we are still working together and there won't be a world war tomorrow."

This article was first published on June 26, 2015.
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