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US and China hold seventh Strategic and Economic Dialogue

Washington summit to address South China Sea dispute

The U.S. and China will hold their seventh Strategic and Economic Dialogue this week in Washington. On the agenda will be a range of regional and global issues, including territorial disputes among Asian nations in the South China Sea.

The six nations with competing claims to the area are China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The territories in dispute are the Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoal and the Parcel Islands. Beijing says it’s nearly done with a land reclamation project the Spratlys, something that has drawn sharp criticism from Washington.

Beijing dates its claim to the South China Sea to the Xia and Han dynasties, which ruled as far back as 2,000 B.C. During China’s republican era, in the first half of the 20th century, it mapped and named 291 islands and reefs in the region. The U.S. says the disputed territory is in international waters and wants the United Nations to determine sovereignty.

At the heart of the dispute is a major trade route, through which most of China’s oil imports flow. Control of the area could allow Beijing to disrupt shipments to all other countries in East and Southeast Asia as well as deny access to foreign military forces, such as the United States’.

The different nations are also trying to assert rights over fishing grounds and potentially vast undersea oil and gas reserves.

During The Week Ahead segment on Al Jazeera America, David Shuster spoke to Isaac Stone Fish, Asia Editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Stone Fish said that past meetings haven’t produced substantial results but that this one could be different.

“It is a very significant meeting,” he said. “With all of the tensions going on right now in the South China Sea, we might actually see some news coming out of these meetings.” He added, however, that it won’t consume the entire dialogue.

“I think the South China Sea is something where [the U.S.] clearly has the upper hand and China recognizes that other countries in Southeast Asia are seeing that it’s the aggressor, so I think the South China Sea is not going to dominate the talks.”

Stone Fish said that other topics the United States will want to discuss include North Korea, trade and Internet hacking. Earlier this month, a breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management network compromised sensitive security clearance information of millions of federal employees and contractors. Although the U.S. has not been able to verify those responsible, it has pointed the finger at Chinese hackers.

“The Chinese really don’t like to talk about this, pointing out that the United States is not the only one that gets hacked. China and Chinese companies get hacked a lot, and we just know a lot less about it,” he said.

Stone Fish said that “China is the world’s second-most-powerful country and they really are ready to compete with us economically, militarily and politically.”

The two nations hope to further their cooperation when Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first state visit to the United States this September.

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