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Kerry visit could set tone for new US-China ties

By Zhang Yuwei in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-12 11:19

US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Beijing on Saturday, kicking off his first visit to China since taking office in February. Experts describe the "timely" visit as an opportunity for the world's two largest economies to explore the "new type of great power relationship" proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Kerry's two-day visit - following a trip to Japan and preceding one to the Republic of Korea - is at the invitation of China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It comes as Pyongyang creates tension with its announcement that it will reopen its shuttered nuclear reactor and its threat to attack the US with a nuclear missile.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a news conference earlier in the week that the two sides will "exchange views on Sino-American relations, and on international and regional issues of common concern".

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters last week that Kerry's visit affords a timely opportunity for the two sides to discuss their "shared concern" about the direction in which the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is heading.

Chas Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia who served as an interpreter during President Richard Nixon's 1972 China visit, said it is important for senior levels of government in Beijing and Washington to strengthen consultation on tensions in Asia.

"East Asia is now the scene of multiple flashpoints for possible conflict, each of which has the potential, if mishandled, to drag in the United States and China," Freeman said, adding that the DPRK has raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula to extract concessions from China and the US.

"China's relations with Japan and some Southeast Asian nations are troubled by confrontations over competing territorial claims," he added.

While the Korean Peninsula is said to be part of the discussion, experts say the meetings will mostly set the tone for a new phase of US-China relations following the Chinese leadership transition and the start of President Barack Obama's second term.

"The most important deliverable for Kerry's visit will not be the degree of cooperation on North Korea's current behavior, but setting a strategic tone for overall US-China relations," said Douglas Paal, director of the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think-tank.

"In recent years, the competitive aspects of relations have been overtaking the cooperative aspects," Paal said. "I hope Secretary Kerry will encourage the leaders he meets to frame future discussions on how to bring our two countries' major interests into alignment and how to manage those interests that are in friction."

Freeman said Kerry has an opportunity to forge more cordial and productive ties between both countries.

"It is no secret that there was not much warmth in Secretary Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton's relationship with China and its leaders," Freeman said.

Paal said Kerry's "personal style" will be "well received" by China's leaders.

"If he can apply a strategic vision and not get lost in detailed problems early on, I believe the tone will be constructive and effective," Paal said.

Last week, in a phone call with China's State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who most recently served as the country's foreign minister, Kerry said the US values highly its relationship with China and hopes the two will strengthen dialogue and cooperation.

Yang said it's important for the two biggest economic powers to maintain high-level visits and other contact. China-US relations are at a new stage with a good start, Yang added.

The visit also provides "an opportunity for the two sides to begin to explore the details of the 'new type of great power relationship' that President Xi Jinping has proposed as a framework for relations, Freeman noted.

"The existing frameworks no longer serve as well as they did," Freeman said.

"They remain valid, but are no longer adequate to guide a Sino-American relationship that is both unprecedented in scale and intensity and facing new challenges in the realms of security, global governance, and bilateral interaction."

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