The United States is urging China to play a more prominent role in combating global terrorism and help “change the calculus” on North Korea, ahead of high-level security talks with Beijing.
The first round of the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue kicks off in Washington Wednesday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will host a Chinese delegation led by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s Joint Staff Department.
Senior U.S. officials say China has “taken a fairly limited profile” in counterterrorism efforts. It is not a member of the 68-nation global coalition countering the Islamic State militant group
“We would like to see them step up and take more responsibility,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Susan Thornton told VOA on Monday.
Thornton said China has “a lot of interest in Iraq,” and the U.S. thinks it should be doing more to contribute to the efforts of the international coalition to defeat IS.
Killings concern China
Earlier this month, two Chinese citizens were killed by Islamic State militants after being kidnapped in southwestern Pakistan. In November 2015, IS said it killed Chinese national Fan Jinghui. Both cases triggered grave concern from Beijing.
“We have seen them [Chinese officials] become more interested over time,” added Thornton, noting the talks are “an early feeler” on getting China more involved.
On Tuesday, Chinese officials said both countries have been victims of terrorism.
“Cooperation is in the interests of both sides,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing.
Leveraging China’s ties to North Korea
On North Korea, the U.S. is looking for China to “change the calculus” of the isolated regime and exert its leverage as North Korea’s largest trading partner.
“The most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region is North Korea,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey on Tuesday. “We seek to deepen our cooperation to realize the outcome which is in the best interest of peace and security in the region and the world.”
The United Nations has blacklisted hundreds of North Korean entities, but many of them try to get business done though China, according to U.S. officials.
The issue is a sticking point between Washington and Beijing that experts say needs to be the focus of frank discussion.
“The Chinese remain unconvinced that the U.S. goal is not regime change. The U.S. side remains unconvinced that China’s goal is not to use the North Korean problem as leverage in the relationship,” Dennis Wilder from Georgetown University’s U.S.-China Initiative told VOA.
“This is a matter of strategic trust that can only be built through this type of dialogue at the most senior levels,” added Wilder, who served as the senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush.
Rand Corporation senior defense analyst Derek Grossman notes the “last thing Beijing wants is a conflict that would end Kim Jong Un’s regime and unleash new power dynamics at its doorstep.”
Grossman said China’s perpetual security concern is reflected in its proposal that the U.S. and South Korea “freeze” routine joint exercises in exchange for Pyongyang suspending its missile and nuclear programs.
U.S. officials say they welcome actions by countries that have ramped up pressure on Pyongyang, including phasing out the use of North Korean laborers, and denying the landing rights and refueling privileges of North Korea’s national airline Air Koryo.
“A lot of the wages of these workers go to the regime and to fund unlawful programs in North Korea,” Thornton told reporters.
U.S. officials said Wednesday’s Diplomatic and Security Dialogue is a departure from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue of years past that covered a wide range of issues. Instead, they say this week’s discussion reflects a “streamlined approach” and will “more narrowly focus on key security issues.”
South China Sea
Another area in which Washington hopes to make headway is the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing’s island building has raised concerns.
U.S. officials are calling for a binding code of conduct to resolve differences.
“All parties should freeze any construction or militarization of features that they have outposts on in this space and make room and create the conditions for diplomacy,” said Thornton.