Biden headed to East Asia

Updated: 2013-11-05 11:28

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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As US Vice-President Joseph Biden prepares for his second trip to China in a little more than two years, how the two largest economies handle their relationship in the Asia-Pacific region has again become a hot topic.

The White House announced on Monday that Biden will visit Japan, China and the Republic of Korea in the first week of December. And in Beijing, the vice-president will meet with key Chinese leaders to consult on global and regional issues of mutual interest.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, said implementing the agenda items agreed upon at the fifth Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) should be a high priority.

During the S&ED held in Washington in July, the two countries pledged to cooperate more in a wide range of economic, trade and security fields. The talks came just a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama met in Sunnylands, California, where they vowed to build a new type of major country relationship and defy the historical rivalry between a rising power and an existing one.

The two countries also agreed to start formal negotiation of a bilateral investment treaty. While the US sees this as a potential opening of the large service sector in China, China believes such a deal will better protect the increasing Chinese foreign direct investment in the US.

Biden, who last visited China in August 2011, has a good personal relationship with Chinese President Xi. He accompanied Xi when he visited the US in February 2012 as China's vice-president.

Biden will be the most senior US official to visit China after the upcoming third plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on Nov 9-12, where a number of economic reform measures that show the country's direction in the next decade are expected to be announced.

The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be a key topic. Glaser said there should be a clear understanding reached on what steps Pyongyang must take for Six-Party Talks to resume, following Chinese envoy Wu Dawei's visit to Washington and the subsequent US-Japan-ROK meeting on the issue.

Other diplomatic efforts to restart the Six-Party Talks are under way, with ROK's nuclear envoy Cho Tae-yong in Washington on Monday to meet US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies. Cho will also visit China this month.

Last week, Kim Hyong-jun, vice-foreign minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), visited Beijing to talk with Chinese officials about resuming talks.

The DPRK has repeatedly expressed its willingness to resume talks without preconditions. But both the US and the ROK insist that the DPRK should first take meaningful steps to denuclearize before any talk could resume. China has urged the US to show more flexibility to first restart the Six-Party Talks, which have been suspended since 2008. The talks involve the DPRK, the ROK, China, the US, Japan and Russia.

While China and the US have seen more cooperation on the Korean Peninsula, the two countries still don't see eye-to-eye on the US pivot to Asia policy.

Glaser said she hoped both sides will exchange views on development on their policies toward the Asia-Pacific region.

"China should explain its just-held high-level meeting on periphery diplomacy and Biden can provide an update on the US rebalancing to Asia," Glaser said.

Some analysts believe Biden's trip to the three East Asian nations is intended to emphasize the US commitment to its pivot to Asia policy. Obama's cancellation in attending two Asia summits and visiting four Asia nations last month - due to the impending threat of the government shutdown - has been regarded as a setback in Obama's commitment to the region.

The US has found itself in a dilemma over the Diaoyu Islands territorial dispute between China and Japan. Tensions have been high since the Japanese government nationalized the islands late last year and refused to acknowledge that a dispute over the sovereignty of the islands even exists, something that deeply upsets many Chinese.

The White House said Biden will discuss with key leaders in Tokyo a broad range of issues, focusing on progress towards a high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, seeking further momentum on key alliance goals and discussing a range of regional and global challenges.

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a former senior defense official in Australia, described the US pivot to Asia policy as a failure.

He said the US should take China seriously and replace the pivot with a policy that works, calling for the US to share power with China in Asia.

White expressed his concerns over a possible trajectory of rivalry between China and the US. He said Australia does not want to choose between its relationship with the US and its relationship with China, and he believes the whole of Asia thinks the same.

"There is no good future for Australia unless we can preserve the relations we have with the US, and the relationship we've developed with China and develop them further in the coming decades," he said at the Kissinger Institute on China and the US at the Wilson Center on Friday.

(China Daily USA 11/05/2013 page1)