WASHINGTON - From Singapore's perspective, it is important that the United States continues to engage with Asia-Pacific and build trust in the region, including China, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said.
"The way forward is through discussion, dialogue, through strengthening, deepening mutual understanding, and building trust between countries, and between the US and the region" Mr Gan told an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Thursday (Oct 7) local time.
He had a fireside chat-style conversation with the chamber's vice-president and head of international affairs, Mr Myron Brilliant.
Mr Gan's remarks were in response to a question from Mr Brilliant on US trade policy towards China.
Earlier in the week, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a policy speech that the US would soon restart trade negotiations with China.
Mr Gan noted that the effort was not going to happen overnight.
"It will take time and the US also has many interests, many focuses, many priorities," he said.
"I would urge the United States to continue to step up engagement in the region, and to continue dialogue with China. I think we have seen encouraging progress in the discussion between the two countries. Ambassador Tai said she is going to commence a discussion with the Chinese authorities. Therefore, I am optimistic that we will be able to see progress, but it may take time.
"The important thing is that the US must continue to stay engaged in this region and, in particular, with China," he added.
His remarks came amid signs of a potential virtual meeting soon between President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met for six hours with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi in Zurich, Switzerland, on Oct 6.
The White House said the meeting followed up on a Sept 9 phone call between Mr Biden and Mr Xi, in which they discussed the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to "responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC)".
Mr Sullivan also raised areas where the US and China have an interest in working together to address vital transnational challenges, and ways to manage risks in the relationship, a brief White House statement said.
"Mr Sullivan raised a number of areas where we have concern with the PRC's actions, including actions related to human rights, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and Taiwan," the White House said.
"Mr Sullivan made clear that while we will continue to invest in our own national strength and work closely with our allies and partners, we will also continue to engage with the PRC at a senior level to ensure responsible competition."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, asked about the prospect of a meeting between the two presidents, said on Wednesday: "What came out of the discussions (in Zurich) was an agreement to continue dialogue at a very high level.
"What we've said… and we continue to believe is that leader-level engagement is an important part of our effort to responsibly manage the competition with China, especially given the coalescing of power in Chinese leadership," she added.
"We're still working through what that (virtual meeting) would look like (and) when."
Mr Biden mentioned during the call with Mr Xi last month that he would like to be able to see the Chinese President again, Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed senior administration official.
But Mr Xi has not left China since the Covid-19 pandemic, and is not expected to attend in person a Group of 20 nation summit in Rome, or the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow in November.
China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Mr Yang as saying in Zurich that "China attaches importance to the positive remarks on China-US relations made recently by US President Joe Biden, and China has noticed that the US side said it ... is not seeking a new Cold War".
But he also said China does not define the relationship as "competitive", and urged the US to stop using Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights and other issues to interfere in what China sees as its internal affairs.
This comes at a time of sharply mounting tension over Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province which must be reunited with the mainland.
China has in recent days sent record numbers of warplanes into Taiwan's air defence identification zone, keeping the island's defences on edge.
On Thursday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at a daily press briefing: "We are very concerned by the PRC's provocative military actions near Taiwan."
"This activity is destabilising, it risks miscalculations, it undermines regional peace and stability. And so we strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan."