World attention is being drawn to the possibility of a meeting of representatives from the world's two largest economies at the World Economic Forum annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland next week.
With concerns over trade protectionism and anti-globalization swirling, there are signs that the Chinese delegation could meet on the sidelines with the transition team of US president-elect Donald Trump. Such a meeting could help narrow positions on trade and sensitive political issues, observers said.
Uncertainty over those positions has rocked Asia-Pacific nations that would be the most affected by a trade war or a security conflict, they said.
President Xi Jinping will lead the Chinese delegation to Switzerland for a state visit from Sunday to Wednesday. On Tuesday, he will become the first top Chinese leader to attend the Davos meeting.
Given that Trump will take office on Jan 20, "someone from the transition team representing the new administration" will attend the forum, Klaus Schwab, forum executive chairman, said on Tuesday. It remains unclear who that would be.
Asked whether a Trump representative would meet with the Chinese delegation at Davos, Vice-Foreign Minister Li Baodong said on Wednesday at a news briefing on Xi's trip that "there are open channels of communication" between Beijing and Trump's team.
Beijing is willing to arrange meetings with various parties if time permits on the sidelines of the Davos forum, so "the relevant two-way meetings are being discussed", Li said, without directly confirming a meeting with the Trump team.
Also on Wednesday, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said Beijing hopes that "the US respects China's interests and concerns in the Asia-Pacific region", adding that China is "willing to maintain contacts with the new US administration over Asia-Pacific affairs and discuss cooperation".
Security in the Asia-Pacific cannot be maintained by the US alone as it requires joint efforts by all countries, particularly the major countries, Liu said at a news conference.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said if the Davos meeting happens, Trump's envoy might press Beijing on financial issues and the Taiwan question.
Zhong Feiteng, a researcher on Asia-Pacific studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that China may ask the new Cabinet to be cautious on trade policies, and attention will be given to the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue to prevent a deteriorating regional security situation.
Zhang Yansheng, secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission's Academic Committee, said Trump's team is advocating anti-globalization measures and trade protectionism to try to gain an advantage for the US.
Trump's team said secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson would knock China's islands construction program in the South China Sea and its policies on Pyongyang's nuclear program, Reuters reported. Tillerson's confirmation hearing was held on Wednesday.