US, China must be 'honest, direct' about future of ties, says Joe Biden at start of dialogue

United States Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Clean Energy Investment Summit on June 16, 2015.
United States Vice President Joe Biden at the White House Clean Energy Investment Summit on June 16, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP/REUTERS) - The United States and China must be "honest and direct" about their future ties, which will help define the 21st century for the whole world, United States Vice-President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.

Welcoming a top delegation of Chinese officials for annual strategic and economic talks, Mr Biden said Beijing must be at the table in all important global negotiations and, while he did not gloss over differences, he praised China for being "a partner" on many issues from nuclear negotiations to climate change.

“I believe that the future of China’s success and global influence is directly tied to the extent to which it acts as a responsible stake-holder,” Mr Biden said. “Essential to this is to find new ways to work together even as we seek to manage future competition.”

But he delivered a sharp warning to Beijing amid territorial disputes with Asian neighbors over the South and East China Seas that the world’s waterways must remain “open and protected” for trade. “Responsible countries adhere to international law and work together to keep international sea-lanes open for unimpaired commerce. Eighty percent of all the commerce today is on the back of a ship somewhere floating on the oceans,” he said.

“Eighty per cent of all the world’s economy. The notion of sea lanes being open and protected is even more crucial today than any time in human history, because of the interconnectiveness of the world.”

The world’s two leading economies remain at odds over China’s claims to much of the South China Sea and Washington has repeatedly urged Beijing to stop building artificial islands in the area.

But China said last month it will project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air.

“Nations that discard diplomacy and use coercion and intimidation to settle disputes, or turn a blind eye to aggression of others only invite instability,” Mr Biden warned.

Although the US Vice-President did not gloss over differences, he praised China for being “a partner” on many issues from nuclear negotiations to climate change.

About 400 Chinese officials have converged on Washington for the high-level annual talks being hosted by Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

The Chinese side is being led by Vice-Premier Wang Jang and China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Separately, the Obama administration is deeply concerned about cyber theft of commercial secrets sponsored by foreign governments and plans to take the matter up with Chinese officials at the high-level talks this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Tuesday.

"We remain deeply concerned about government-sponsored cyber theft from companies and commercial sectors," Mr Lew said in prepared remarks at the opening of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. "The United States and China have a shared interest in ensuring that the Internet continues to drive growth and prosperity worldwide. We look forward to discussing these matters further."