The foreign ministers of China and the United States are meeting for the third time in less than a month, reflecting a mutual sense of urgency in lowering tensions arising from North Korea's security threat as well as from the two sides' military actions in the South China Sea.
China's Foreign Ministry yesterday announced Foreign Minister Wang Yi's three-day visit to the US, starting today, at Secretary of State John Kerry's invitation to discuss "bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern".
"We hope that the meeting will deal with sensitive issues in a constructive way and ensure the sustainable, healthy and stable development of Sino-US relations," said spokesman Hua Chunying, who later cited the Korean Peninsula situation as one of the issues.
Both diplomats have already met twice this year: in Beijing during Mr Kerry's Jan 26-27 visit to China, and in Munich on Feb 12 on the sidelines of a security conference.
Mr Zhang Liangui, one of China's top North Korea experts, said it is rare for the foreign ministers to exchange visits within a short time.
It shows both sides might be prepared to tweak their respective North Korea policies to ensure that a United Nations resolution on tougher sanctions against Pyongyang is passed soon, he added.
"If there's no change in their policy, then there's no need to make the visit so soon," said Mr Zhang, a Korean studies professor at the Central Party School.
Pyongyang had launched a long-range rocket on Feb 7 carrying what it called a satellite, and also conducted a nuclear test on Jan 6, both in violation of UN sanctions.
Its actions prompted Seoul and Washington to agree to resume talks on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) unit in South Korea.
But China has raised objections, saying the advanced American missile defence system would hurt its security interests.
Sino-US expert Shi Yinhong of Renmin University said a key goal of Mr Wang's visit could be to reach an outcome in which China agrees to back tougher UN sanctions against North Korea in return for the Thaad not being deployed.
Peking University international relations expert Jia Qingguo believes the South China Sea issue would also figure in the meeting, as tensions rose in recent weeks over China's deployment of missiles on a disputed island and the US' freedom of navigation missions.
Ms Hua yesterday struck a combative tone, urging the US not to take sides and to stop "hyping up" the issue. "China's deploying necessary, limited defensive facilities on its own territory is not substantively different from the United States defending Hawaii," she added.