BEIJING — President Obama’s national security adviser urged China to help respond to the growing threat of the radical Islamic State while meeting this week with top Chinese officials.
Susan E. Rice, here for three days to lay the groundwork for a November visit by Obama, received no commitment that Beijing would join the fight in Iraq. But a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “The Chinese expressed interest.”
China has its own concerns about rising domestic terrorist threats by Islamist extremists, especially in the Xinjiang region of western China. American and Chinese aides are still discussing what a Chinese contribution would look like, said the senior official, declining to go into detail.
“We’re trying to build an international coalition, and it’s important China be a part of it,” the official said.
Rice also raised concerns about Chinese fighter jets intercepting American surveillance planes.
U.S.-Chinese relations have undergone stresses recently, and Rice had a daunting series of bumps to smooth over. Her meetings included a 45-minute sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“They have been free riders for the last 30 years and it’s worked really well for them,” Obama said in an interview with the New York Times. “And I’ve joked sometimes, when my inbox starts stacking up. I said, ‘Can’t we be a little bit more like China?’ Nobody ever seems to expect them to do anything when this stuff comes up.”
Things only worsened after the U.S. military released images last month of a Chinese military jet buzzing a U.S. surveillance aircraft off the Chinese coast, condemning it as a reckless attempt by China to intimidate without regard to the diplomatic and political fallout a collision could spark. Chinese state media responded by accusing the United States of unwarranted spying.
On the prickly issue of democratic elections in Hong Kong, U.S. officials were cautious in characterizing Rice’s discussion. China’s legislature recently ruled that residents could vote in an upcoming election but severely restricted the choice of candidates — a move many Hong Kong residents decried as tantamount to sham elections.
“Hong Kong did come up, and it was important for us to raise universal suffrage. For us, that means one-man, one-vote,” the senior U.S. official said.
Pressed, another U.S. official said, “The ability for people of HK to choose their leadership based on the will of voters is fundamentally what we’re looking for. One step is what was announced, and there’s further to go.”
In recent weeks, Chinese officials have bristled at even faint State Department criticism of their restrictions on Hong Kong’s elections, telling U.S. officials, through Chinese state media, that it is a domestic concern.
The Obama administration has portrayed Rice’s visit as a sign that it remains committed to its goal of pivoting strategic attention and resources to Asia.
According to U.S. officials, other issues Rice raised with foreign and defense ministers included China’s maritime disputes with U.S. allies in Asia, retaliatory Chinese restrictions on foreign journalists’ visas, North Korea, human rights and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.