Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday that his government was ready to cooperate with the United States on a range of issues from Afghanistan to cybersecurity but provided few details on how that cooperation would take place.
Wang, who visited Washington in advance of next week’s United Nations General Assembly, said that Afghanistan could be a “new highlight” in U.S.-China relations that the two countries have tried to advance since President Obama’s June summit in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
New agreements between the two have been “strategic, constructive and path-breaking in nature,” Wang said in remarks at a dinner held at the Brookings Institution.
But despite a wealth of encouraging words from Washington and Beijing and the initiation of bilateral dialogue on a number of issues, substantive progress on other issues has been elusive.
Most recently, Secretary of State John F. Kerry tried in a meeting with Wang to persuade China to separate its policy on Syria from that of Russia at the U.N. Security Council. China has joined Russia’s veto of several Syrian-related measures and has given no public indication it will shift positions in the council’s current debate over the tough measure the United States is seeking to guarantee Syrian compliance with an agreement to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.
“While we appreciate China’s support for a political solution” in Syria, Kerry said when the two met Thursday, “. . . we do have differences between our nations and have disagreed sharply over how the international community should respond to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. With negotiations ongoing at the Security Council, we look forward to China playing a positive, constructive, important role.”
In his Brookings remarks, however, Wang was noncommittal. “China is firmly opposed to the use of chemical weapons by any country or individual,” he said. “We believe that political settlement is the only right way out in defusing the Syrian crisis. We support an early launch of the process to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.”
In Afghanistan, China has played virtually no role in the international coalition fighting the Taliban and working toward Afghan political development. Asked how cooperation on Afghanistan could be a “highlight” of the U.S.-China relationship, Wang mentioned a collaborative program for training Afghan diplomats, which he described as “not very big, but positive.”
He said that China could play a role in working with Pakistan and other Afghan neighbors with whom Beijing has good relations. “Now, we’re all talking about Syria,” he said. But he predicted that by the “second half of next year, the most important topic will be Afghanistan.” U.S. combat forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, although an agreement to retain a residual U.S. military presence there remains unfinalized.
Wang repeated a call to resume international talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, saying that Pyongyang was “ready to reiterate its commitment to denuclearization.” The United States remains skeptical of such pledges, saying they have been repeatedly broken in the past.
Wang also called for the United States to “respect China’s interests and concerns” in the Asia Pacific region, where China’s neighbors have appealed to Washington to help them resolve maritime disputes with Beijing.
In response to questions, Wang told the Brookings gathering of China experts and diplomats that China would not alter its claim to a group of uninhabited islands that are also claimed by Japan but said he thought that “eventually there will come a day when the two sides come together to have serious dialogue and to work out a solution.”