NEW YORK - The top US and Chinese diplomats are set to meet on Friday in New York as soaring tensions show signs of easing, but Beijing issued a new warning against support for Taiwan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are set to meet on the sidelines of the annual United Nations summit, their first encounter since extensive talks in July in Bali where both sides appeared optimistic for more stability.
One month later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, infuriating Beijing which staged military exercises seen as a trial run for an invasion of the self-governing democracy.
The State Department said it was part of Washington’s ongoing efforts to “maintain open lines of communication and manage competition responsibly.”
President Joe Biden in an interview aired on Sunday said he was ready to intervene militarily if China uses force, once again deviating from decades of US ambiguity.
His comments were also the most explicit to date about committing US troops to the defend the island, although the White House insisted its Taiwan policy had not changed.
In a sign of smoother ties, Mr Wang said he met in New York with US climate envoy John Kerry despite China's announcement after Mrs Pelosi's visit that it was curbing cooperation on the issue, a key priority for Mr Biden.
But in a speech before his talks with Mr Blinken, Mr Wang reiterated anger over US support for Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms.
"The Taiwan question is growing into the biggest risk in China-US relations. Should it be mishandled it is most likely to devastate bilateral ties," Mr Wang said at a session by the Asia Society think tank.
"Just as the US will not allow Hawaii to be stripped away, China has the right to uphold the unification of the country," he said.
He denounced the US decision to "allow" the Taiwan visit by Mrs Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency after Vice-President Kamala Harris. The Biden administration, while privately concerned about her trip, noted that Congress is a separate branch of government.
But Mr Wang was conciliatory towards Mr Biden. The New York talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a first meeting between Mr Biden and President Xi Jinping since they became their two countries' leaders, likely in Bali in November on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 economic powers.
Mr Wang said that both Mr Biden and Mr Xi seek to "make the China-US relationship work" and to "steer clear of conflict and confrontation".
"However, what has happened is that the US seems to have two different sets of musical scores. Their leaders' political will for a stable bilateral relationship has yet to be translated into logical policies," he said.
The US Congress is a stronghold of support for Taiwan, a vibrant democracy and major technological power.
Last week, a Senate committee took a first step to providing billions of dollars in weapons directly to Taiwan to deter China, a ramp-up from decades of only selling weapons requested by Taipei.
Tensions have also risen over human rights with the United States accusing China of carrying out "genocide" against the mostly Muslim Uighur people in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Mr Biden, like his predecessor Donald Trump, has viewed a rising China as the chief global competitor to the US and vowed to reorient US foreign policy around the challenge.
Russia's invasion in February of Ukraine quickly diverted the US focus to Europe but also heightened fears that Beijing could make good on years of threats to use force against Taiwan.
Yet US officials have also been heartened that China has shown some distance from Russia, nominally its close ally.
President Vladimir Putin at a meeting last week told Mr Xi that he understood China's "concerns" on Ukraine, while Mr Wang, in a special Security Council session on Thursday, emphasised the need to end the war rather than support for Russia.
In line with the Biden administration's focus on allies, Mr Blinken met jointly Thursday with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, and immediately before his talks with Mr Wang is expected to hold a meeting of the Quad grouping with Australia, India and Japan. AFP, REUTERS