Wednesday May 27, 2020

February 18, 2014

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in China during a trip to Asia that included stops in South Korea, China, and Indonesia. This was Kerry’s fifth trip to Asia as Secretary of State, highlighting the importance the Obama administration places on this region. While in Beijing, Kerry met with President Xi Jinping, Premiere Li Keqiang, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Kerry also visited a clean-engine plant and had a discussion about press-freedom with Chinese bloggers.

Potential for Cooperation

While in China, Kerry emphasized the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and the goal of strengthening the positive American presence there in order to “promote long term stability and prosperity.” He stressed the importance of the U.S. and China, as the world’s largest economies, working together and pointed to the responsibility the two powers have to cooperate.

The U.S. and Chinese leaders focused on many key areas where the two countries could work together, such as clean energy and climate change. As the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, this is an area where both countries bear responsibility and an interest in finding solutions. Other potential areas for cooperation discussed include stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

During his press briefing, Kerry mentioned the large amount of bilateral cooperation that is already taking place, including on issues regarding Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and the South Sudan. He said, “Our cooperation, frankly, on issues of enormous importance in the world should not go unnoticed…. And we appreciate enormously the Chinese efforts with respect to those kinds of initiatives. Not many people know that that kind of cooperative effort is underway.”

U.S.-China cooperation on North Korean denuclearization took center stage in the press briefing and the news coverage of Kerry’s visit. The Secretary of State said North Korea “must take meaningful, concrete, and irreversible steps towards verifiable denuclearization, and it needs to begin now.” He went on to express China’s agreement of this U.S. objective, saying, “China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to that goal, its interests in achieving that goal, and its concerns about the risks of not achieving that goal.”

Preventing Conflict

In addition to the continued goal of “practical cooperation,” Kerry mentioned that a successful bilateral relationship also requires the “constructive management of differences.” Kerry, thus, did not shy away from potentially problematic topics in his meetings with China’s leadership. Human rights, civil society, rule of law, cyber security, and economic challenges all made it onto the agenda.

The greatest current potential threat to regional security, territorial disputes in the waters surrounding China, was also a prime topic of discussion. Secretary Kerry pointed out the need for the parties involved in the territory disputes to adhere to rule of law, create a code of conduct, and device crisis management mechanisms. These tools would help prevent conflict from escalating and misunderstandings or accidents from turning into full-scale confrontation.

Kerry hopes to “try to establish a calmer, more rule-of-law-based, less confrontational regime” in the South and East China Seas. He wants “to cooperate on these kinds of things, to have notice, to work through these things, and to try to do them in a way that can achieve a common understanding of the direction that we’re moving in, and hopefully a common acceptance of the steps that are or are not being taken.”

Overall, Secretary Kerry seemed optimistic about the meetings, the direction the U.S.-China relationship is heading, and the potential for U.S.-China cooperation to have a positive influence on the world. He said, “And I found today constructive. I thought the tone was excellent. It was frank. There were some differences, needless to say, but they were managed and handled exactly as they should be, in an appropriate exchange and an appropriate kind of discussion.”

For more information on Kerry’s trip to China, see the following news articles:

Reuters – “Kerry says China willing to pressure North Korea on nuclear plans

U.S. Department of State – “Solo Press Availability in Beijing, China

BBC – “China will act on North Korea, says John Kerry

China Daily – “Kerry’s visit bodes well for China-US ties

Washington Post – “Kerry set to make 5th trip to Asia

The Diplomat – “In Beijing, Kerry Focuses on North Korea, Climate Change