Donald Trump meets China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi amid tensions

US President Donald Trump (left) held his first face-to-face meeting with State Councillor Yang Jiechi.
US President Donald Trump (left) held his first face-to-face meeting with State Councillor Yang Jiechi.PHOTOS: EPA, AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with a member of China's leadership on Monday at a time of tensions between Washington and Beijing, and the White House said the Chinese visit was a chance to discuss shared security interests.

State Councillor Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, was taken to see Trump briefly after talks with new US National Security advisor, H.R. McMaster, and Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

"After the meeting ended, I believe the state councillor was taken (and) had an opportunity to say 'hi' to the president before he left," Spicer told a regular briefing.

"This was an opportunity to begin that conversation and talk to them on shared interests of national security," he said of the meetings with Yang.

Yang, who outranks China's foreign minister, is the first top Chinese official to visit the White House since Trump took office on Jan 20.

His visit to Washington followed a phone call between Yang and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, during which the two affirmed the importance of a constructive US-China relationship.

It was the latest step by the world's two largest economies to try to put relations back on an even keel after a rocky start following Trump's election victory.

Trump has been a strong critic of Beijing, accusing China of unfair trade policies, criticizing its island building in the strategic South China Sea, and accusing it of not doing enough to constrain its neighbour North Korea.

Trump incensed Beijing in December by talking to the president of Taiwan and saying the United States did not have to stick to the "one China" policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.

Trump later agreed in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to honour the "one China" policy in a diplomatic boost for Beijing, which vehemently opposes criticism of its claim to self-ruled Taiwan.

China's state news agency Xinhua quoted a researcher at a government-backed Chinese think tank as saying a discussion of when and where Trump and Xi would meet first would be on the top of the agenda during Yang's visit.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, saying Beijing could resolve the issue "very easily if it wanted to."

China dismissed Trump's remarks on Friday saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.

China has repeatedly called for a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.

Plans for renewed contacts with North Korea in the United States were cancelled last week after the U.S. State Department denied a visa for the top envoy from Pyongyang, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.