US, China 'must be responsible competitors'

Washington keen to shape rules of new century with Beijing, says Biden

US Vice-President Joe Biden speaking at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington. At right is China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi.
US Vice-President Joe Biden speaking at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington. At right is China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi. PHOTO: REUTERS

THE United States and China must be responsible competitors, said US Vice-President Joe Biden, adding that Washington wants to work with Beijing to shape the rules of the 21st century.

Speaking at the opening of a high-level meeting between the two superpowers, Mr Biden tried to find a balance in airing American grievances with China and making it clear that Washington did not seek to contain its rise.

"We must all embrace the role of responsible competitor, helping to create and uphold a playing field that is level, fair and transparent," he said at the start of the seventh US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

There has been concern among observers of late that growing tensions between the US and China were a sign that the Americans were pushing back against the idea of rewriting global rules to accommodate the rise of China.

Mr Biden, however, yesterday stressed that was not the case.

He said it would be foolish to discard all the old rules but acknowledged that some rules and institutions needed to be updated to "reflect the world as it is, not as it was".

He also said that new rules were needed in areas such as space and cyber security.

"The US believes strongly that whenever possible, China needs to be at the table as these new rules are written. Responsible competition, adhering to these common rules both old and new, in my view, will be the essential ingredient required to manage areas of disagreement and build a long-term, sustainable US-China relationship," he said.

Mr Biden did, however, also devote a large portion of his half-hour speech to US and Chinese disputes that included cyber security, intellectual property and the South China Sea.

"Any country that relies on unhealthy practices to undermine healthy competition with others, ultimately limits itself," he said.

"Nations that discard diplomacy and use coercion and intimidation to settle disputes or turn a blind eye to the aggression of others only invite instability and undermine collaborative goals of the international community."

He added: "This is not lecturing - please do not misunderstand me. This is just the economic rules, like rules of physics of the 21st century."

The Chinese leaders attending the dialogue, in turn, largely focused on common interests between the two countries.

Speaking immediately after Mr Biden, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong said that the two sides "should keep bilateral ties on the right track". "As long as our two countries adopt an overall perspective of respecting and accommodating each other's core interests, and be committed to a constructive approach to reduce misunderstanding and miscalculations, we can manage our differences," she said.

A day earlier, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang had similarly played down any tensions between the two sides.

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese leader largely steered clear of the more contentious issues in the relationship, focusing on matters such as trade and climate change.

"The Strategic and Economic Dialogue is a sign of the growing maturity of China-US relations...

"The convergence of interests has gone beyond many people's imagination.

"It is now such that neither could afford non-cooperation or confrontation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'US, China 'must be responsible competitors''. Subscribe