Washington, DC – Officials from the United States had “candid and productive discussions” with Chinese diplomats in Beijing, the US Department of State has said, amid rising tensions between the two countries.
Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant US secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Sarah Beran, National Security Council senior director for China, met with Chinese officials Ma Zhaoxu and Yang Tao on Monday.
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The mid-level talks, which mark continuing diplomacy between the two countries despite intensifying competition, come two days after the US military accused China of “unsafe” manoeuvres near a US military ship in the Taiwan Strait.
“The two sides had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” the State Department said in a statement.
Kritenbrink’s visit also followed an apparent snub last week after Beijing declined a request for a formal meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore.
The talks also follow a visit by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Burns to China last month, which was confirmed by several US media outlets last week.
The State Department said the two sides exchanged views on their bilateral relationship, their “channels of communication” and other issues on Monday, adding that the American officials made clear that Washington would “stand up for US interests and values”.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “The two sides conducted candid, constructive and fruitful communication on promoting the improvement of Sino-US relations and properly managing and controlling differences.”
Communications would remain open, the ministry added.
The maritime incident days earlier had underscored the tensions between the two countries.
The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command said on Saturday that a Chinese ship came close to American destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, causing it to slow down to avoid a collision, in violation of the right to safe passage in international waters.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin rejected the US version of events, accusing the American destroyer of making “provocations” first.
“The actions taken by the Chinese military are completely justified, lawful, safe and professional. It is the US that should reflect on and correct its wrongdoing,” Wang said.
Last week, the US also said a Chinese jet performed “unnecessarily aggressive” manoeuvres near an American aircraft over the South China Sea.
On Monday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the two incidents are part of an “increasing level of aggressiveness” by the Chinese military, warning that such manoeuvres can lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations.
“When you have pieces of metal that size — whether it’s in the air or on the sea — and they’re operating that close together, it wouldn’t take much for an errant judgement or a mistake to get made, and somebody could get hurt,” he said. “And that’s just got to be unacceptable.”
Ties between Beijing and Washington have soured in recent years, over numerous issues including trade rules, the status of Taiwan, China’s claims in the South China Sea and an ongoing US push against growing Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to China in February after US authorities shot down what they said was a Chinese spy balloon that had traversed the country.
Beijing insisted that the aircraft was a weather balloon that drifted off course.
Both US and Chinese officials say they are not seeking confrontations or a new Cold War. In May, US President Joe Biden predicted a “thaw” would happen “very shortly” between the two countries.