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US, China to Hold Top-level Security Talks on Friday as Ties Show Signs of Thawing

In early October, a US defense official said that a planned visit by Mattis to China had been canceled because Beijing declined to make Wei available.


Updated:November 6, 2018, 11:46 AM IST
US, China to Hold Top-level Security Talks on Friday as Ties Show Signs of Thawing
Representative image (Reuters)

Washington: The United States and China will hold top-level security talks on Friday, the State Department announced, in a sign of easing tensions after months of escalation over trade and regional disputes.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will host senior Chinese officials in Washington for the second US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, following a meeting in June 2017.

The announcement of talks with senior Communist Party foreign affairs official Yang Jiechi and General Wei Fenghe came on the eve of US congressional elections, in which President Donald Trump has cast China as a villain set on bringing him down.

In early October, a US defense official said that a planned visit by Mattis to China had been canceled because Beijing declined to make Wei available.

But addressing a Middle East security conference last week, Mattis said that Wei would shortly travel to Washington, adding that "strategic competition does not imply hostility." Washington and Beijing have been locked in a high-stakes standoff over Trump's move to end what he says have been years of unfair trade practices by China.

Trump imposed new tariffs on roughly half of Chinese imports this summer while Beijing fired back with tariffs on most US products.

Trump turned the feud into a full-press offensive — boosting military support for rival Taiwan, stepping up denunciations of Beijing's human rights record and curtailing its access to US nuclear technology.

In a speech that some observers said recalled the Cold War, Vice President Mike Pence vowed to challenge China on multiple fronts and accused Beijing of interfering in US elections by buying advertisements extolling the trade relationship.

But Trump sounded a more conciliatory note last week, heralding "very good" talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and later declaring that he expected their trade conflict to end with "a very good deal."

Xi earlier Monday also offered a more forward-looking note as he wooed investors in Shanghai. He pledged to welcome imports, streamline customs clearance and crack down on intellectual property infringement — longtime goals of foreign business leaders, although many of them have grown jaded after similar promises in the past.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, addressing the Bloomberg New Economy Conference in Singapore, said that the world's two largest economies will "both gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation." "China will stay calm and sober-minded, embrace greater openness and work for mutual benefit," he said.

But views on China have hardened across the political spectrum in Washington, with a growing number of US policymakers saying that Beijing's calls for calm masks a bid to seize advantage.

On security, the focus of Friday's talks, the United States has accused China of increasingly bold moves in the dispute-rife South China Sea and of harassing US warships in international waters.

Also likely high on the agenda will be North Korea, which counts on China as its most important ally. Pompeo is due to meet Thursday in New York with the right-hand man of leader Kim Jong Un, who held an unprecedented summit with Trump in Singapore in June.

Trump is eager to meet Kim again to work on a potentially historic deal to close the Korean War officially. Trump and Xi are separately expected to hold talks in one month's time in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a visiting delegation of US lawmakers last week that he hoped their countries can meet "halfway" amid friction over trade, security and other issues.

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