WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi began talks in Hawaii on Wednesday, the State Department said, a crucial meeting as relations between the two countries have soured since the start of the year.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, speaks as Chinese Communist Party Office of Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi listens as the two countries hold a joint news conference after participating in a second diplomatic and security meeting at the U.S. Department of State, Washington, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
The meeting in Honolulu started shortly after 9 a.m. local time (1900 GMT), a senior State Department official said. It was Pompeo’s first known contact with Yang since they discussed the coronavirus by phone on April 15.
In addition to an intensifying strategic rivalry, the world’s top two economies have been at loggerheads over the handling of the pandemic and China’s move to impose new security legislation on Hong Kong.
Tensions have risen also over China’s neighbor North Korea. The United States and China share concerns about that country’s nuclear weapons program.
Neither side has outlined an agenda for the talks, but diplomats and other sources have said the meeting was requested by China.
Experts say U.S.-China relations have reached their lowest point in years, and in mid-May U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pursued a deal to end a damaging trade war he launched with China, went so far as to suggest he could cut ties with Beijing.
Before the meeting, foreign ministers of the G7 countries, who include Pompeo, issued a joint statement calling on China not to follow through with plans to impose the new national security legislation on Hong Kong.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also told a congressional hearing that Chinese officials had repeatedly affirmed their commitment to buy more U.S. goods and services under a Phase 1 trade deal signed in January and that some $10 billion in purchases had been recorded thus far.
Lighthizer also said, when asked about exports of products made by Uighurs and other Muslim groups in camps in China, that Washington would “strongly enforce” U.S. laws banning the import of goods made by forced labor.
Legislation is awaiting Trump’s signature that calls for sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for oppressing Uighur Muslims, including one of Yang’s colleagues on China’s powerful Politburo.
Pompeo has said China could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths from the global pandemic by being more transparent, and accused it of refusing to share information.
Trump has initiated a process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong to punish China for curbing freedoms there, but has stopped short of immediately ending privileges that have helped the territory remain a global financial center.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao and Howard Goller