The U.S. and China will have intense disagreements, but the world is depending on the two powers to work together, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday, urging China to be a "responsible stakeholder" in international affairs.
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Biden was speaking on Tuesday at the start of the annual U.S.-China Security and Economic Dialogue, which takes place amid growing tensions over cybertheft and China's island building in the South China Sea.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he was looking forward to a "very frank" discussion on cybersecurity, Internet freedom, human rights and religious freedom.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said neither China nor the U.S. can afford a lack of cooperation or "all-out confrontation." He said the dialogue would lay the foundation for a White House visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, slated for September.
Biden acknowledged that there will be intense disagreements, but added: "This relationship is just too important. Not only we depend on it, but the world depends on our mutual success."
While the two sides have deepened ties and have made strides in cooperation on combating climate change in the past year, the differences between them are stark. Obama administration officials have said they are increasingly confident that China's government was responsible for a massive breach of personnel records of as many as 14 million of federal employees and contractors.
The Obama administration has stopped short of publicly blaming the breach on China, which has denied involvement, although members of Congress have pointed the finger directly at China. Officials did not refer to it directly in lengthy statements at the start of the talks. But Biden alluded to U.S. concerns over cybe security and theft of intellectual property emanating from China — a perennial concern of U.S. businesses.
"Any country that relies on unhealthy practices to undermine healthy competition with others ultimately limits itself," Biden said, calling for a rules-based system to regulate cyberspace. "Because nations that use cybertechnology as an economic weapon for the theft of intellectual property are sacrificing tomorrow's gains for short-term gain today."
Biden also cautioned against the use of "coercion and intimidation" to settle disputes. Kerry spoke of the need to "reduce tensions rather than add to them" in the South and East China Seas.
China's assertive behavior to advance its territorial claims of islands and atolls in those waters has rattled its Asian neighbors, U.S. allies among them. China says the disputed areas are its sovereign territory.