China: Top Diplomat’s Visit to U.S. ‘A Positive Signal’ for Trade, Security Cooperation

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson greets Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, completed a visit to the United States this week after reportedly discussing the economy and foreign policy with both President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

State media outlets have described the visit as “a positive signal” that the Trump administration will be able to cooperate with the Chinese Communist Party on issues of mutual concern.

Yang met with President Trump on Monday and Secretary Tillerson on Tuesday. The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that the pair discussed creating a “mutually beneficial economic relationship” and the value of having “regular high-level engagement” between the two countries. President Trump has held one phone call with China’s President Xi Jinping since assuming the nation’s highest office, and multiple reports asserted that Yang’s visit was intended to facilitate an in-person meeting later this year.

The Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua described the meeting between Yang as Trump on Tuesday as a “positive signal for China-U.S. relations” and hinted that China was satisfied enough with the meeting to entertain “a summit meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.”

“Sound political interaction is of crucial significance to the long-term healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations, the Xinhua report read, “which not only serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples, but also chimes with the aspiration of the international community.”

“China is always ready to work with the United States to enhance communication and expand cooperation, following the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” it concluded.

The report on Yang’s visit in China Daily, another state-run publication intended for more of an American audience, included more specifics, including a quote from Yang himself. “China is willing to ramp up exchanges with the US at high and various levels,” he told the newspaper, “expand cooperation and coordination in wide-ranging bilateral areas and on major regional and international issues and respect each other’s core interests and major concerns.”

The newspaper added that Yang also briefly met with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Monday.

Several American outlets have reported that, in addition to the economy, North Korea came up as a topic of major concern in both meetings. Reuters notes that both North Korea and China’s colonization of the South China Sea were topics of discussion during the meeting with Trump, while CNN quotes an anonymous official claiming that Trump demanded Yang “work on North Korea” with his government and told the Chinese envoy that the United States considered North Korea among the highest security threats for the United States.

Pyongyang’s Communist government has become increasingly belligerent in recent months, triggering an international outcry for the United Nations to act in curbing its nuclear program. In addition to its typical flagrant violations of UN sanctions, the governments of Malaysia and South Korea suspect that dictator Kim Jong-un may have ordered the murder of his brother, Kim Jong-nam, killed in Kuala Lumpur airport with VX nerve agent in February. The agent in question is classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

Following the death of Kim Jong-nam, the Chinese government announced it would halt imports of coal from North Korea for a year, complying with international sanctions. North Korea responded by publishing a scathing government newspaper editorial calling China a “U.S. vassal” state.

Should the North Korea situation compel a meeting between Xi and Trump, it could occur as early as May, the South China Morning Post estimates. In their February call, the two world leaders agreed to find a way to meet in person as soon as possible.