Senior U.S. and Chinese diplomats held “candid and productive” talks in Beijing and agreed to keep open lines of communication to avoid tensions from spiraling into conflict, officials said Tuesday.
Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was the most senior U.S. official confirmed to have visited China on Monday since tensions between Washington and Beijing soared over the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S. in early February.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the time postponed a planned trip to China, and Beijing has since largely rebuffed attempts at official exchanges, though there have been some recent signs of a thaw. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met in Vienna, Austria, on May 10 and 11, and China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao, visited the United States at the end of the same month.
However, China reportedly rebuffed a U.S. request for a meeting between Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin while both were attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend. The top U.S. and Chinese defense officials briefly interacted at a dinner on Friday evening, but Austin said afterward that a single handshake “is no substitute for a substantive engagement.”
China’s Foreign Ministry said Kritenbrink and Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu “had candid, constructive and fruitful communication on promoting the improvement of China-U.S. relations and properly managing differences.”
Beijing said it had stated its “solemn position on Taiwan” – a self-ruled island China claims as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary – and other issues, and that the two sides had agreed to maintain communication.
The U.S. State Department also said the two officials held “candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries.”
The U.S. Navy on Sunday complained about an “unsafe interaction” in the Taiwan Strait, after a Chinese warship came within 150 yards (137 meters) of a U.S. destroyer. And last month, a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, where Beijing shares overlapping territorial claims with other nations.
CIA Director William Burns last month reportedly took a secret trip to Beijing in another sign the two sides are interested in restoring communication through various channels.