Why It Matters

Boost for China in Sino-US ties

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first trip to China would have brought relief to the Asian power's leaders as it has generated a friendly atmosphere for a summit between the two countries' presidents, which may take place next month.

His conciliatory remarks when he met Chinese leaders were a far cry from those of President Donald Trump, who had accused China of things including "raping" the United States with its unfair trade policy. With bilateral ties off to a rocky start after Mr Trump's election last November, the Chinese have pulled out all the stops to bring ties back to an even keel, including inviting Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka to a Chinese New Year do at its Washington embassy.

But critics in the US are already saying that Mr Tillerson has conceded too much ground in his remarks in Beijing by mouthing China's characterisation of Sino-US ties - something which the previous US administration had rejected. He spoke about the two sides building a relationship based on "the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation", which are concepts of a "new type of major power relations" the Chinese put forth in 2010.

But "mutual respect" meant that the US should respect China's core interests and major concerns including Taiwan, Tibet and the South China Sea.

Chinese experts are surprised by Mr Tillerson's remarks, saying they were welcomed by China. But the comments were slammed by US analysts, who said they meant acceptance that China would not compromise on these issues.

This would be a mistake as China had shown no inclination to do the same for US core interests, such as its alliances in Asia, The Washington Post quoted Ms Bonnie Glaser of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think-tank, as saying.

As for the Chinese, while they are pleased with the remarks, some warn of the need to see if these words are translated into deeds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Boost for China in Sino-US ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe