Engaging in Concert – The Fifth S&ED

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This coming week the fifth round of the S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue) between China and the US will be held in Washington.  Many have characterized this as a monumental “bureaucratic circus”  with each side bring as many as two hundred officials to these now annual meetings.  And at times these events indeed have appeared to be like that – a kind of gigantic bilateral “meet and greet”.

But it is more than that.  And the bilateral US-China meeting is evolving.  This year’s meeting is being hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew.  On the Chinese side is State Councilior Yang Jiechi, formerly the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Vice Premier Wang Yang.

It appears that there are three matters that represent the headliners for this year’s meeting.  Kenneth Lieberthal a Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy , Global Economy and Development at the John L. Thorton China Center of the Brookings Institution has summarized well the upcoming meeting.

First among equals is a discussion of what to do with North Korea.  It appears “on the surface” that under the new China leadership, China has raised the profile of denuclearization of the peninsula.  That would encourage progress on the US-China front as the United States has as its priority the elimination of the DPRK’s nuclear capability.

The US  has pressed China on cybersecurity – primarily the US concern that China’s efforts have targeted the theft of intellectual property.  Finally, China has appeared to be willing to discuss energy pollution – generated principally in China by the burning of coal for energy production.  President Obama’s recent initiatives to curb carbon dioxide production from not only new but also currently existing power plants in the United States signal’s this Administration’s willingness to curb energy pollution.  It would appear, then, to be a subject that both governments are prepared to engage in.

Beyond the specific subject areas, however, there is the prospect of an evolving bilateral process. I have been the researching  the evolution of Global Summitry – spoiler alert, I hope to write a number of articles on this topic and possibly a book. I was caught in the research by the early summitry evolution – in this instance the emergence of the Concert of Europe in the early part of the nineteenth century concluding in part the wars against Napoleon.  As Keith Hamilton and and Richard Langhorne offer in The Practice Diplomacy:  Its Evolution, Theory and Administration, Second Edition:

The term ‘concert’ was derived from the Italian ‘concerto’, and since the sixteenth century had, when applied to diplomacy, embraced the idea that states acting in accord or or harmony.  … the word acquired a new connotation. … opponents began to associate it with the prospect of a continuing allied coalition, not just for the achievement of victory, but for the containment of revolution, the maintenance of peace and the reestablishment of what was referred to as a ‘general system of public law in Europe’.

The key here is continuing harmony. And matching in part the organization of the G20 – the High Table of global governance currently – the S&ED has established two working groups – one for cybersecurity and one for climate change.  The working groups are meeting prior to the actual S&ED and the hope is that these groups will forward an agenda and priorities to the main body and that tasking will arise from the main meeting that call on the working groups to meet subsequently and to prepare joint policy decisions that will then flow back to senior officials for approval.

So really aside from the subject areas, important in themselves, look for agreement on ongoing process.  This could be the strongest signal of joint progress by these two great powers.

Image Credit: www.treasury.gov

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