Kerry to visit China this week

Updated: 2014-02-11 09:06

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington and LI XIAOKUN and MO JINGXI in Beijing (China Daily USA)

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When US Secretary of State John Kerry visits China during Valentine's Day this week, he will be facing a complicated relationship that has been marked by expanding cooperation and rising disputes.

On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf repeated a Sunday announcement about Kerry's Feb 13-18 trip that will take him to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta and Abu Dhabi to meet senior government officials and address a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues. It will be Kerry's fifth trip to Asia in the past year.

In Beijing, Kerry will meet with senior government officials and relay the message that the US is committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship and welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China that plays a positive role in world affairs, according to the State Department.

Kerry will also discuss regional issues, including North Korea, as well as highlight the importance of US-China collaboration on climate change and clean energy, according to the statement.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing on Monday that the two sides will exchange views on China-US relations and other issues of common interest during Kerry's visit to China Feb 14-15.

So far, much of the attention has been on tensions over the South and East China Seas. During his testimony before a House subcommittee last Wednesday, Danny Russel, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, reiterated US objections to China's declaration of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone in November and described it as a provocative action.

On Monday, Hua said that China has long been resolutely upholding regional peace and stability and making important contributions to regional prosperity and development.

"We are ready to properly resolve relevant issues with countries directly-concerned through dialogue and consultation in a bid to jointly maintain regional peace and stability," she said.

China has argued that its establishment of ADIZ is exercising its legitimate rights as a sovereign state, since more than 20 countries have set up ADIZs and the US was the first to do so 60 years ago.

State Department spokeswoman Harf said Kerry will reiterate a lot of the concerns expressed by Russel during the testimony, such as those over growing regional tensions and freedom of navigation.

But she said Kerry will also pick up on the meeting US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping had at Sunnlands, California, last June "that really kicked off this phase of the US-China relationship".

That includes working together with China on P5+1 and Iran and on North Korea, according to Harf.

At Sunnylands, the Chinese and US leaders vowed to build a new type of major country relationship to maximize their cooperation and effectively manage their differences.

Climate change and clean energy, which are also high on Kerry's agenda in China this week, are subjects that hold great potential for cooperation between the two largest greenhouse emitters in the world. Both Obama and Kerry have been passionate about the subjects, despite opposition from Republican lawmakers, while China has also laid out an ambitious program to address the issues.

"But also we do have a number of issues, particularly in these disputes in the region, where we have some honest conversations we need to have," Harf said of Kerry's trip to China.

"And I think that's the sheer strength of the partnership. You can have these (issues) and keep working together on other issues," she said.

"As tensions between China and Japan keep growing, the US wants to stop the two nations from irritating each other and to rule out the possibility of an armed conflict in the region. Kerry's visit obviously serves this purpose," said Wang Xinsheng, a history professor at Peking University.

Tension between China and Japan has risen following Japan's nationalization of the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in late 2012. Meanwhile, the visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec 26 to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are honored, has further intensified the tensions between Japan and its two major neighbors, China and South Korea.

The growing tension between China and Japan has worried the US, which might be drawn into an unintended armed conflict with China due to its treaty obligations with Japan.

Japan is not on Kerry's itinerary this time. However, Kerry met Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington on Friday, stressing the US commitment to the defense of Japan and their closer security cooperation.

Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the US has urged Japan several times to improve its relations with China and the ROK after Abe's shrine visit.

Tao said Kerry's visit is also to prepare for Obama's planned tour of Asia in April to promote the US "pivot" to the region.

While the final agenda has not been announced, the US president is expected to visit Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Some Asian nations have questioned the US determination of its pivot after Obama canceled a trip to the region in October, during the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Contact the writers at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com and lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn and mojingxi@chinadaily.com.cn

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