WASHINGTON • The United States and China yesterday resumed top-level talks after months of spiralling tension, looking to see if they can find a way forward on disputes from trade to military friction.
The delayed meeting in Washington comes weeks before US President Donald Trump is expected to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, with both sides hoping they can announce some progress.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis spent yesterday morning with two high-ranking Chinese policymakers, days after a congressional election in which Mr Trump painted China as a bogeyman.
A planned trip by Mr Mattis to Beijing last month was cancelled amid rising military tensions between the Pacific powers. But yesterday, China's Defence Minister, General Wei Fenghe, visited the Pentagon to a ceremonial honour cordon.
Before that, the defence chiefs had talks at the State Department jointly with Mr Pompeo and senior Chinese Communist Party official Yang Jiechi, a longtime architect of Chinese foreign policy who formerly served as ambassador to Washington.
The talks will focus on security, but trade is at the heart of tensions. Mr Trump has slapped US$250 billion (S$344 billion) worth of tariffs on Chinese goods, accusing Beijing of nefarious trading practices, prompting retaliatory measures.
While some of the Trump administration's comments on China have prompted commentators to draw parallels to the Cold War, Mr Terry Branstad, the US Ambassador to China, said that Washington was not seeking confrontation for its own sake.
"We want this to be a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China. The US is not trying to contain China, but we want fairness and reciprocity," Mr Branstad told reporters on the eve of the talks.
We want this to be a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China. The US is not trying to contain China, but we want fairness and reciprocity.
MR TERRY BRANSTAD, the US Ambassador to China.
In Beijing yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China hopes the talks will have good results, and help "deepen understanding" and "accelerate collaboration between both sides" .
Mr Branstad said the talks would consist of "frank, open exchanges" on issues from human rights to the myriad maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
"We want to achieve progress on our priorities including North Korea, and China has been a very key player in helping to get North Korea to the bargaining table," Mr Branstad said.
Mr Trump is seeking a follow-up to his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who counts on China as his main supporter. But a meeting due this week in New York between Mr Pompeo and a senior North Korean official was abruptly called off, the latest twist in turbulent diplomacy.
With the occasional exception of North Korea policy, the US has increasingly seen China as a meddlesome player on the global scene.
In a meeting with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger in Beijing on Thursday, Mr Xi said it was "noteworthy that negative voices concerning China have been rising for some time in the United States", according to the official Xinhua news agency.
But Mr Xi also noted that he had agreed to meet Mr Trump in Argentina, where "the two sides can have an in-depth exchange of views on issues of common concern".
China, Mr Xi said, "is still committed to the building of a relationship with the US that features no conflicts, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation".