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US, China hold ‘candid’ talks days after security forum spat

US, China hold ‘candid’ talks days after security forum spat
Global market indices displayed on a stock ticker in Pudong's Lujiazui Financial District in Shanghai, China, on Monday, 30 January 2023. (Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Senior US and Chinese officials held “candid” talks in Beijing, days after the two countries’ defense chiefs squared off at a fraught security forum exposing limits in mending the bilateral relationship.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US State Department official for Asia, met with Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu on Monday, becoming the most senior US official to publicly travel to Beijing since an alleged Chinese spy balloon derailed ties in February.

Both sides described the talks as “candid” and “productive” in their readouts, with the US State Department saying in a release on Monday that the exchange was part of ongoing efforts to restore “high-level diplomacy”. The Chinese side called the exchange “constructive” in a statement on Tuesday. 

Sarah Beran, the National Security Council’s senior director for China and Taiwan affairs, and Nicholas Burns, the US ambassador to China, were also present at the meeting, along with Yang Tao, director general of the North American and Oceanian Affairs Department, according to the statements.

The meeting was the latest exchange in a flurry of high-level diplomacy as the world’s two largest economies try to find common ground for dialogue, potentially laying the groundwork for a call between President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. 

Last month, CIA director William Burns made a secret visit to Beijing, while Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Tai, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sat down with top diplomat Wang Yi for two days in Europe. 

Despite those efforts, the relationship remains strained over a series of ongoing flashpoints, such as Beijing’s territorial claims over the self-ruled island of Taiwan and Washington’s campaign to isolate China from high-tech chips with potential military applications. 

China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu refused to meet his US counterpart at a conference in Singapore at the weekend, using a speech there to attack Washington’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific. A Chinese warship crossed the bow of an American one in the Taiwan Strait at a distance of around 150 yards, the Pentagon said on Saturday, as tensions simmered.

On Monday, Kritenbrink discussed “cross-Strait issues” with Chinese officials, according to the US statement, while China said that it stated its “solemn position” on Taiwan and other “major principles”. DM

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