Kerry to head to China for talks

US top diplomat John Kerry will visit China for talks.
US top diplomat John Kerry will visit China for talks.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Top US diplomat John Kerry will travel to Beijing for talks on a range of issues as part of a trip that will also take him to Mongolia and France, the State Department said on Monday.

The June 5-7 visit comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over the Asian giant's military expansion in the South China Sea.

The United States disputes China's sovereignty in the region and has conducted several "freedom of navigation" operations in which it deliberately sails or flies close to the islands, attracting the ire of Beijing.

Kerry will be in the Chinese capital starting on Sunday for the eighth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, for which he will be joined by US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The Chinese co-chairs of the gathering will be State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang.

"The Dialogue will focus on the challenges and opportunities that both countries face on a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global areas of immediate and long-term economic and strategic interest," Kirby said.

Kerry will also attend the annual US-China Consultation on People-to-People exchange, a forum bringing together government officials and private sector representatives to strengthen ties in fields such as education, culture and sports.

Prior to his China visit, Kerry will be in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where he is due to meet with senior government officials, take part in a town hall gathering and attend a cultural festival.

Kerry kicks off his trip in Paris on Thursday for a French-hosted Middle East peace conference.

While in the French capital, he will also meet separately with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to discuss efforts by a US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, among other issues.