The Straits Times says

Watching pace of US-China ties

It was never very clear why the United States and China, which had established an annual joint meeting of their defence and foreign ministers called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, should have added a Diplomatic and Security Dialogue to the barrow. US President Donald Trump's allergy to anything started by his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, may be one reason for this.

As it turns out, there appears to be little to celebrate from the latter dialogue held this week. A Xinhua commentary on the meeting described it as "constructive" and "fruitful". Neither side called it warm and, in the absence of a joint statement or joint press conference, it was left to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to brief the media.

Before the meeting, both sides had talked up their positions, with Mr Trump tweeting about China's attempt to help in North Korea, the top issue on the agenda: It "has not worked out. At least, I know China tried". As before, this tweet too left even his own officials confused, until it was clarified that the President was referring to the death of American student Otto Warmbier, who had returned in a coma from captivity in North Korea. This prompted questions about American patience on this and other issues with China.

According to Mr Tillerson, the US and China called for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula". It also appears that China had agreed that its companies "should not do business" with North Korean companies listed for UN sanctions. The Chinese maintained their "dual-track" approach to denuclearisation of the peninsula, saying it must move in step with a peace mechanism.

On the issue of its island-building in the South China Sea and US opposition to the militarisation of these islands, China's response was to assert "indisputable sovereignty over the islands and adjacent waters" as well as the right to safeguard it.

Since none of this changes known positions, the only optimistic notes from the meeting are confirmation that Mr Trump will proceed with his state visit to China this year and that military-to-military ties between the world's top powers will be expanded.

Next week, Mr Terry Branstad, the new US ambassador to China, arrives in Beijing to take up his post. Also, the Chinese expect to host Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, the influential Jared Kushner, suggesting that they will have a big hand in shaping the presidential tour. A meeting between the two presidents is also expected on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Clearly, if Mr Trump's state visit to Beijing is to yield more than a major ego massage for him, both sides have much work to do in the months ahead. Given the global importance of this relationship, all eyes are on how it is developing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Watching pace of US-China ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe