Top officials from the U.S. and China met to discuss domestic and international issues in the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. However, the meeting concluded without any notable progress made on issues surrounding China’s actions in cyberspace and at sea.
One issue in particular that could lead to military conflict between the two countries concerns China’s decision to go forward with reclaiming coral reef in the South China Sea. Both countries have a responsibility to continue discussions, relieve tensions and strive for peace in the area.
As the seventh U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held since 2009, the meeting provides a valuable forum of discussion for the many participating officials.
The most heated point of contention between the two countries, however, is the issue in the South China Sea, with the U.S. continually requesting self-restraint from China. During the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific at the end of May, for instance, China refused to agree to a U.S. request calling for the immediate suspension of its large-scale reclamation by citing military purposes.
In the middle of June, prior to this dialogue held in Washington, China announced that construction related to reclamation was nearly complete. Although this was believed to be aimed at avoiding increased opposition, the U.S. has not decreased its vigilance.
The U.S. believes that the man-made island China is creating via reclamation is being used to establish and mark its territory. Many other countries, including Japan, are also doubtful, and China needs to respond to this criticism against its actions.
Another major factor behind the distrust between the U.S. and China lies with the cyberattack on the U.S. government. In response to the U.S. view that it was an invasion from hackers under the Chinese government’s jurisdiction, China has asserted that the cause was not within its borders. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue’s cybergroup has also been discontinued.
It is fair to say that the South China Sea and cyber issues have become a large obstacle to the dialogue. In an exceptional meeting with Chinese officials regarding these issues, President Obama “urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions,” [according to a White House press release].
In spite of these issues, both countries called for cooperation regarding the nuclear issues in North Korea and global warming. The combined efforts of China and the U.S., respectively the highest and second highest emitters of greenhouse gases, toward reducing emissions will likely have a positive effect on the world’s environment. These actions are to be expected of responsible major powers.
President Xi Jinping is also expected to visit the U.S. in September. Every opportunity should be used to further the discussion on pending issues like the one in the South China Sea and to find a way of lowering tensions.