Senior US diplomat to visit China: State Department

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visit will come at the end of visits to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit China on July 25 and 26, the State Department said on Wednesday (July 21), as the world's two largest economies seek to navigate a deeply troubled bilateral relationship.

Ms Sherman, the State Department's second-ranked official, will meet State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in the city of Tianjin, south-east of Beijing.

Her visit will come at the end of visits to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia as part of her second visit to Asia in less than two months. The State Department said Ms Sherman would also visit Oman on July 27.

The China talks would be "part of ongoing US efforts to hold candid exchanges... to advance US interests and values and to responsibly manage the relationship", the State Department said in a statement.

Using the acronym for China's official name, the People's Republic of China, it said Ms Sherman would "discuss areas where we have serious concerns about PRC actions, as well as areas where our interests align".

Ms Sherman's China visit has been anticipated in foreign policy circles, but was not announced along with the rest of her trip last week.

It could help set the stage for further exchanges and a potential meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year, possibly on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Italy in late October.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported last week that China planned for Mr Xie Feng, a foreign vice-minister, to meet Ms Sherman, but the two sides were haggling over protocol details.

"Our senior level engagement is a precious resource, so we wanted to make sure that we were going to have substantive and constructive exchanges with senior PRC officials," a senior US administration official told reporters.

"That's exactly what we believe we're going to be getting with this meeting we're going to have with Wang Yi."

North Korea, climate change and Iran are issues of shared concern Ms Sherman will be hoping to make progress on in China, despite a fractious relationship that has plunged ties to their worst level in decades.

"We are certainly having ongoing conversations about potential ways that we may be able to work together on shared problems," a second senior official said.

Mr Biden has ramped up sanctions on China over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and targeted more Chinese officials last week. In a shift from his predecessor Donald Trump, he has also broadly sought to rally allies and partners to help counter what the White House says is China's increasingly coercive economic and foreign policies.

In April, Mr Biden's climate envoy John Kerry visited Shanghai, making him the most senior US official to visit China during the Biden administration.

But otherwise, the two sides have had little in the way of high-level face-to-face contact since a combative first senior diplomatic meeting under the Biden administration in March in Alaska, where China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi harangued the US side over what he said was a hegemonic US foreign policy and its struggling democracy.

The US accused China of grandstanding.

Last Friday, leaders of the Asia-Pacific trade group Apec, including Mr Biden, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and China's Xi, pledged to work to expand sharing and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines to fight the global pandemic.

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