Friday February 21, 2020


January 24, 2014

Earlier this week, both U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Public Affairs Daniel Russel were in Beijing for high-level meetings. While their time in China overlapped, Burns and Russel were in China as part of separate trips. These trips came at a time of tension in the region and highlight the importance the U.S. government places on ensuring stability in East Asia and maintaining a role as a positive presence in the region.

Deputy Secretary Burns began his trip in the Republic of Korea to discuss North Korean denuclearization before heading to China and then concluding his trip in Japan. North Korean denuclearization and tensions with Japan were both key topics for the meetings in Beijing. These three meetings gave Burns a chance to meet with the primary players in these issue areas and will hopefully allow the U.S. to help these parties move forward in a constructive fashion.

Burns met with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, Vice Foreign Ministher Zhang Yesui, PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Wang, and State Councilor Yang Jiechi while in Beijing. He also participated in an ‘interim round’ of the U.S.-China Strategic Security Dialogue, during which he met with various military officials and discussed the importance of improved military engagement among other important issues.

According to a press statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the goal of the Beijing meetings was to “engage in constructive discussions with senior Chinese officials on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues.” Burns stressed the importance of close cooperation and meaningful joint action on issues such as North Korea and Iran and avoiding conflict in the East and South China Seas, in particular by refraining from any unilateral action and by focusing on diplomatic rather than military solutions.

Assistant Secretary of State Russel also traveled to Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore during his trip. While in China, Russel co-chaired the fifth U.S.-China Asia-Pacific Consultations along with Zhen Zeguang, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister. The result of the meetings was a joint statement containing a list of several areas in which the two countries hope to cooperate. Included in the list are disaster relief, food security, marine conservation, development programs in Afghanistan, health monitoring, and customs anti-trafficking efforts.

These Asia-Pacific Consultations were created by the third U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues. The first one was held in 2011 in Hawaii between then Vice-Minister Cui Tiankia, now Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., and then Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

According to a China Daily article, the U.S. sent Burns and Russel to East Asia in order to “fine-tune the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific by ‘quenching the fire’ between China and Japan, after recent provocative moves by Tokyo that have further threatened regional stability.”

These trips, however, are actually part of larger efforts between the two countries to improve bilateral ties. In discussing the meetings, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao referenced the importance of ‘new type major-country relationship,’ a popular buzz phrase since presidents Xi and Obama met last summer.  He also noted that “this year marks the 35th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. We should promote pragmatic cooperation in various areas and properly manage divergences.”

Deputy Secretary Burns noted that achieving the goal of positive U.S.-China relations “means building practical cooperation in areas of nuclear nonproliferation and climate change, and strengthening our economic relationship.”

Burns is not a stranger to the importance of the dynamic U.S.-China relationship. For example, in October 2011 he addressed a U.S.-China Relations conference at Texas A&M University. During his speech he said, “A healthy U.S.-China relationship is central to our vision for the future of the Pacific region and the global economy. Trust and understanding between our nations will be essential to America’s security and prosperity and to China’s as it seeks to play a greater role in world affairs.”

High-level discussions between the U.S. and China will continue next week, specifically on the topic of North Korea, when Glyn Davies, Special Representative for North Korea Policy, brings a U.S. delegation to Beijing. Ambassador Davies plans to meet with Wu Dawei, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, along with other Chinese officials before heading to the South Korea and Japan.

The continuation of such high-level contacts is essential to creating stronger bilateral ties between the U.S. and China, increasing mutual understanding, and establishing trust.

For more information on the recent meetings in Beijing, see the following news articles:

China Daily – “Senior US diplomats off to ‘quench fire’

Xinhua – “Chinese, US diplomats discuss Asia-Pacific

CBS News – “Senior diplomat William Burns in China amid tension over Beijing’s military development, island dispute

China Daily – “VP urges Sino-US synergy

U.S. Embassy, Beijing – “Press Statement on the Visit of Deputy Secretary of State Burns to Beijing, China

U.S. Department of State – “List of U.S.-China Cooperative Projects

U.S. Department of State – “Daily Press Briefing – January 22, 2014

IIP Digital – “U.S.-China Relationship is Evolving, Diplomat Says

Compiled and edited by Ariane Rosen