US-China should restart talks to manage differences, says Li Keqiang

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pointed to how bilateral trade reached US$4.1 trillion in 2020, increasing 8.2 per cent from 2019.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pointed to how bilateral trade reached US$4.1 trillion in 2020, increasing 8.2 per cent from 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China hopes to re-establish dialogue with the United States at all levels, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday (March 11), signalling Beijing's desire for a reset in ties just days before a high-level bilateral meeting.

"We hope to see dialogue between the two countries in multiple areas, and at various levels. Even if we cannot work everything out anytime soon, such exchange of views will help boost trust and dispel misgivings," he said.

Engaging in dialogue again would allow both sides to "better manage and mitigate our differences", said Mr Li, who was speaking at a press conference at the end of China's annual legislative meetings in Beijing.

His comments come as the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday that it was sending its top diplomats - Mr Yang Jiechi, who heads the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi - to Alaska to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan next week.

Bilateral relations between the world's two largest economies sank to a historic low under the Trump administration, with both sides engaged in disputes on issues including trade, technology, the pandemic and Taiwan.

As relations froze, bilateral dialogue also ground to a halt. But with the new Biden administration in power, Beijing has increasingly been signalling it wants both sides to return to the table for talks.

Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping spoke over the phone on the eve of Chinese New Year last month, and Mr Wang said earlier this week that Beijing was ready to cooperate with Washington on a range of issues, including dealing with Covid-19 and climate change.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday that the Chinese officials were travelling to Alaska on the invitation from Washington, and urged the Americans to focus on boosting cooperation and controlling their differences.

"We request the US to treat China and China-US relations in an objective and rational manner, abandon its Cold War and zero-sum thinking, respect China's sovereignty, security, and development interests, and stop interfering in China's internal affairs," said Mr Zhao.

On Thursday, Mr Li made similar points on the country's relations with the US, as he spoke to both domestic and foreign media after the end of China's annual legislative meetings, known also as the lianghui.

The Chinese leader pointed to how bilateral trade reached US$4.1 trillion (S$5.5 trillion) last year, increasing 8.2 per cent from the year before, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and a trade war.

"China and the US have common interests. There are many areas where the two countries can cooperate with each other... The two countries need to put more energy and focus on their common ground and expand converging interests," he said.

Mr Li also said Beijing would continue its current principle and policies towards Taiwan, which it views as a renegade province. Beijing has perceived measures regarding the territory under Trump administration as increasingly provocative.

On Thursday, a US missile destroyer sailed through the Taiwan Strait on a navigation exercise, a day after a top US navy officer warned that the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan was growing.

Said Mr Li: "We will continue to promote peaceful development of cross-strait relations and China's peaceful reunification. We are opposed to any form of separatist activities seeking Taiwan independence, or foreign interference into cross-strait affairs."