By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2017-6-21
The first Sino-US Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (DSD) kicks off in Washington on Wednesday. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and their Chinese counterparts State Councilor Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, a member of China`s Central Military Commission (CMC) and chief of the CMC Joint Staff Department, will chair the dialogue.
In April this year, when Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump held their first meeting in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the two sides agreed to shape the original Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) into a new comprehensive dialogue mechanism, which includes the DSD, the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, the Law Enforcement and Cyber Strategic Dialogue and the Social and the People-to-People Dialogue.
This DSD reflects the new type of major power relations between China and the US. It is regarded as a two-plus-two mechanism between Beijing and Washington, an in-depth dialogue participated in by top diplomatic and defense affairs officials. The US has this kind of mechanism with its closest allies such as Japan and Australia.
In the past few months, Sino-US relations have achieved unexpected stability. During Trump`s campaign, he had harsh words for China. However, since assuming the presidency, he has gradually realized the importance and sensitivity of US-China relations. Tillerson has repeatedly said that the US seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China.
Dealing with North Korea`s nuclear and missile threat, narrowing the US trade deficit and attracting foreign investment to create more jobs all rely on the stability and development of the bilateral relationship.
During the Mar-a-Lago meeting, Xi and Trump agreed to continue to deepen Sino-US relations and expand cooperation. The DSD can turn the consensus into real progress. When Barack Obama was in power, China and the US held the SED annually for dealing with a wide range of issues. Nevertheless, with an increase of challenges, this mechanism appeared to be overburdened and inefficient.
Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said, "The Diplomatic and Security Dialogue will more narrowly focus on key security issues … So what we`re doing now is we`re trying to elevate the level of the dialogue [SED] so that we can reach and get authoritative input from key decision makers on the Chinese side. But we`re also trying to take on a few key priority issues and elevate those to try to get progress on our most difficult and urgent challenges."
The North Korean nuclear threat, the South China Sea issue, maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region and military-to-military relations will be the main themes of the DSD.
Last month, North Korea launched ballistic missiles several times, and Washington hopes that Beijing could work with it to toughen pressure on Pyongyang, including cutting off the supply of crude oil to North Korea and punishing Chinese companies and individuals having illegal business with Pyongyang.
However, Beijing wants to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiation.
Although China and the US have enhanced cooperation on North Korea, the South China Sea issue may become an obstacle for cooperation. In May, a US navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Meiji Reef of China and carried out a "freedom of navigation" operation for an hour and a half. For China, this action is more provocative than the previous innocent passage of the US Navy.
To maintain stability in the Asia-Pacific region, China hopes that the US will not create waves in the South China Sea now as the tensions are easing. In May, China and ASEAN countries agreed on a framework for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. China and other claimant countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam have begun to ease tensions on the South China Sea issue. Maintaining stability in the region and reducing the possibility of being involved in conflicts are in line with the interests of the US.
In order to avoid conflicts and confrontations, the US and China should establish healthy and strong military relations.
The PLA Navy has been invited to attend next year`s Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC 2018). It participated in this world`s largest multinational maritime military exercise for the first time in 2014. It is also encouraging that the two sides have decided to hold talks between the PLA Joint Staff Department and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the future, China and the US can carry out more substantive cooperation to deal with non-traditional security challenges such as disaster relief and anti-terrorism.
Undoubtedly, the DSD will not eliminate differences between the two countries, but it can help stabilize bilateral relations.
On June 13, Tillerson said at a US Congressional hearing that China and the US are discussing "how are we going to maintain stability and a relationship of no conflict between China and the United States for the next 50 years." It is believed that the DSD will be a good starting point for discussing the world`s most important bilateral relationship.
The author is a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.