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State councilor’s US trip may lead to additional high-level contacts

An Baijie
Updated: Feb 28,2017 7:20 AM     China Daily

China’s top diplomat embarked on a trip to the United States on Feb 27 for the first time since US President Donald Trump took office, in a move that analysts said may pave the way for a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Trump.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi is expected to meet with senior US officials during his two-day visit.

The visit comes amid uncertainties on trade and security issues between the world’s two largest economies.

Yang will meet with senior US officials and exchange views “on issues of joint concern to both sides”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news conference on Feb 27. Geng, who was asked whether the two sides will talk about Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea and currency rates, did not specifically address those issues, but said the two sides would remain in close contact during this week’s high-level exchanges.

The two presidents talked by phone this month, and both sides have expressed a willingness for an early meeting, Geng added.

Yang, who was China’s ambassador to the US from 2000 to 2004 and foreign minister from 2007 to 2013, is the first senior Chinese official to visit the US since Trump took office on Jan 20.

His visit also has symbolic significance: It coincides with the 45th anniversary of former US president Richard Nixon’s icebreaking visit to China in 1972, which paved the way for Beijing and Washington to officially establish diplomatic ties in 1979.

February also has seen a face-to-face meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a phone conversation between Yang and former US national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Yang’s trip to US is significant because the two sides need closer communications on topics such as trade, currency and security, said Teng Jianqun, a senior US studies researcher at the China Institute of International Studies.

“State Councilor Yang is likely to explain China’s policy on those issues, which is of great importance because President Trump is a political newbie who needs to hear more from Beijing before he maps out his China policy,” Teng said.

Last week, Trump told Reuters that he has not “held back” in his assessment that China manipulates its currency.

Possible meetings between Xi and Trump could take place either on multiple occasions, like the G20 summit, or through bilateral state visits, Teng said.

Jin Yong, a professor of international relations studies at the Communication University of China, said it’s international practice for senior diplomats to meet first to prepare for meetings between the heads of state.