A top White House official is scheduled to arrive in Beijing this Sunday. His visit comes as concerns about cyber attacks, trade frictions and China’s territorial disputes with Japan test relations between the world’s two largest economies. The visit also comes as President Barack Obama and China’s new leader Xi Jinping prepare to hold their first talks next month in California.
When he arrives Sunday, White House National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon will be the fifth high-ranking U.S. official to visit Beijing since Xi became China’s new leader a little more than two months ago.
Political analysts say the visit will largely focus on preparations for an upcoming summit between Obama and Xi in California June 7 and 8. But analysts say it also is likely that Donilon will discuss other issues such as North Korea, cyber security and even China’s territorial disputes with Japan during his meetings.
Shen Dingli, director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies in Shanghai, said there is much cooperation, confrontation and division in relations between China and the United States. He said the important thing that leaders need to do during the meetings is discuss ways to avoid that confrontation, increase cooperation and keep their differences under control.
“In U.S.-China relations there is much cooperation, confrontation and division and it is important to find ways to avoid confrontation, increase cooperation and keep [the two sides’] differences at bay,” Shen said.
He added that in contrast to the previous administration of George W. Bush, President Obama’s approach to ties with Beijing has been more confrontational.
He said the Obama administration’s decision to sell weapons to Taiwan twice and to meet with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, twice are just two examples of that.
He also noted that so far, Obama has only visited China once since taking office.
According to Shen, George W. Bush visited China four times while in office, sold weapons to Taiwan once and visited with the Dalai Lama once.
The U.S. stance regarding an ongoing dispute between China and Japan over the ownership of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea also is a point of frustration for Beijing.
For its part, the United States has become increasingly vocal in recent months about cyber attacks that appear to be originating in China. The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military strength, which was released earlier this month, said the cyber attacks have targeted U.S. defense networks to map vulnerabilities that could be exploited during a crisis. It also said China’s main goal in carrying out the attacks was to steal industrial technology.
Xie Tao, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that while mutual suspicion is running high now in the relationship, the upcoming meeting could be an opportunity to rebuild trust.
“I think Mr. Xi, unlike Hu Jintao, he is a leader of some kind of personality," Xie remarked. "He has his own style. And I think that American media may like that style and President Obama may like Mr. Xi’s personality. It’s important that the two build up a personal rapport.”
The location of the meeting also could help, he added.
“I think that maybe staying away from that official place, Washington D.C., and getting away from this major media, the White House correspondents, might be a good thing,” Xie said.
White House National Security adviser Donilon arrives for his visit on Sunday and departs next Tuesday.