The US on Thursday said it would not “paper over” differences between it and China when top officials of the world’s two largest economies meet to discuss financial and political strategy in Washington next week.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russel set the scene for contentious exchanges at the annual US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue by stressing that differences over the South China Sea, cybersecurity and human rights would be high on the US agenda.
Speaking after revelations of massive cyberattacks on US government computers in the past two weeks, which US officials have blamed on Chinese hackers, Russel said cybersecurity issues would be raised throughout the talks from Monday to Wednesday in Washington.
The US would also stress human rights, including the issue of democracy in Hong Kong, China’s “very problematic” law on non-govermental organizations, and its restrictions on media and civil society, he told a media briefing.
China has indicated a desire to avoid acrimony at the talks, looking to set the stage for a successful visit to Washington by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in September.
Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zheng Zeguang (鄭澤光) yesterday told a forum in Beijing that China would seek to “constructively handle and control” differences with the US on maritime disputes, cybersecurity and human rights.
“On these issues, our attitude is to not evade and to resolutely defend China’s interests,” Zheng said.
Russel said maritime disputes in the South China Sea were “not fundamentally” between the US and China, and that the US had “an unwavering determination ... to avoid military confrontation, including with China.”
However, he said the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight were at stake and maritime claims had to be consistent with international law.
“It’s an issue of China’s future and of China’s choices,” Russel said.
He called this week’s announcement by China that it planned to continue and expand the construction of facilities on reclaimed outposts in disputed waters troubling.
“Neither that statement, nor that behavior, contributes to reducing tensions... We consistently urge China to cease reclamation to not construct further facilities and certainly not to further militarize outposts in the South China Sea,” Russel said.
This year’s meeting comes amid heightened tensions, not just over Beijing’s increased territorial assertiveness and the allegations of cyberspying, but China’s expanding economic influence across the Pacific Rim at a time of growing doubts over US leadership after last week’s congressional rebuff of US President Barack Obama’s landmark Asia-Pacific trade pact.
US officials are also to press China on currency policy, a senior US Treasury official said.
The meeting is to be chaired on the US side by US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, while China’s delegation will be led by Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang (汪洋).
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