The Debate

Kerry: US-China Ties ‘Most Consequential in the World’

Before heading to Beijing, John Kerry said U.S.-China relations are the most consequential in the world. Period.

Kerry: US-China Ties ‘Most Consequential in the World’
Credit: State Deoartment

The U.S. and China relationship is the most consequential in the world today, period, Secretary of State John Kerry said during a speech in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

“The U.S.-China relationship is the most consequential in the world today, period, and it will do much to determine the shape of the 21st century.” Kerry said during a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Kerry said that strengthening U.S.-China relations is a key component of the United States’ rebalance to Asia, “because a stronger relationship between our two nations will benefit not just the United States and China, not just the Asia Pacific, but the world.”

Kerry told the audience that America’s China policy is built on the twin pillars of “constructively managing our differences” and “just as constructively” cooperating on issues of mutual interest. With regards to issues in which the U.S. and China manage their differences, Kerry explicitly mentioned regional maritime security in Asia, cyber issues and human rights. On maritime disputes, Kerry said that the U.S. and China “do not simply agree to disagree when it comes to maritime security, especially in the South and East China Seas.” Instead, the U.S. consistently urges all parties to pursue their claims in accordance with international law and with restraint. He also reiterated that the U.S. hoped the claimants in the South China Sea dispute would sign a code of conduct.

On cyber issues, Kerry reiterated that the U.S. opposes “cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets” and strongly believes it is in “China’s interest to help put an end to this practice.” Beijing has consistently denied that it is engaged in economic cyber theft, while also denying that there is a distinction between what the U.S. deems legitimate cyber espionage– which is directed at state targets– and illegitimate cyber espionage aimed at acquiring trade advantages. The Obama administration has indicated that the U.S. president intends to raise the cyber issue with President Xi at their meeting later this month. However, China’s top diplomat told Kerry last week that resuming a cyber dialogue is difficult for Beijing because of “mistaken U.S. practices,” likely a reference to both the Edward Snowden leaks and the White House’s decision to bring charges against Chinese military hackers.

On the other hand, Kerry listed economics, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and Ebola as areas of potential cooperation between the United States and China. He spent the greatest amount of time, however, discussing how the U.S. and China could cooperate on climate change issues. Since becoming secretary of state, Kerry has made climate change a central component of his engagement with China and Asia more generally. Given Chinese leaders own growing concern about the environment, this is indeed one area where Xi and Obama are likely to produce some deliverables next week.

Kerry made the speech on Tuesday immediately prior to departing for a trip abroad that will include two trips to China. Following a brief stop in Paris, Kerry will be Beijing on Friday and Saturday this week to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meeting (AMM). He will then travel to Oman to meet with the Iranian foreign minister, before returning to Beijing early next week to accompany President Barack Obama at the APEC leaders summit and the bilateral summit between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.