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Tense US-China assembly ends, Beijing official says relations are in a “state”

BEIJING – Another high-level meeting between US and Chinese officials – this time in the Chinese city of Tianjin, just outside Beijing – ended on Monday with criticism from both sides.

Before the end of the talks, China’s State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Xie Feng told Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday that the relationship between the two countries was “now at a stalemate and facing serious difficulties.”

“Basically, it’s because some Americans portray China as an ‘imagined enemy,'” the ministry’s press release said. “We urge the United States to change its highly misguided mindset and dangerous policies.”

However, the statement said China will continue to work with the US on condition that the leaders “change course” and stick to Chinese interests.

State-run Xinhua News Agency said Xie subsequently told the media that the Chinese side had submitted two lists to the US, one with “flaws” to address and the other with issues Beijing considered important.

The first list called on the US to, among other things, withdraw its extradition request from Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, lift sanctions against Chinese officials, lift visa restrictions for Chinese students and stop the suppression of Chinese companies.

When asked about the lists when asked about the lists with reporters after the meeting, senior US government officials did not raise the issues but said broadly that both sides were raising issues and the US planned to investigate Chinese concerns.

US officials declined to comment on Xie’s characterization of the meeting to reporters. Officials said the four-hour discussions were direct, frank and constructive, and covered familiar topics from Hong Kong to Iran.

However, the two sides did not talk about a China-US summit, US officials said, noting that it was up to China to take this next step.

Tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent years. Former US President Donald Trump tried to counter long-term criticism of China such as unequal market access, lack of protection of intellectual property and the compulsion of companies to transfer technology in order to operate in the country with tariffs and sanctions.

“The Deputy Secretary of State underlined that the United States welcomes the fierce competition between our countries – and that we intend to further strengthen our own competitive position – but that we are not looking for a conflict with the PRC,” the State Department said in a statement .

Under President Joe Biden, the US has increased its criticism of Beijing for alleged human rights violations in regions such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Beijing regards these matters as “internal affairs”.

On Monday, Xie claimed that contrary to such “meddling,” China “never forced a country.”

“The comments fit in with China’s existing diplomatic disputes,” said Nick Marro, global trade leader at The Economist Intelligence Unit, in an email, citing disagreements with India and Australia, among others.

“The US is paying close attention to all of these various hot spots, in part to take advantage of opportunities where frustration with China is driving third countries closer to the US,” said Marro. “As a result, the Chinese Vice Secretary of State’s comments are unlikely to be well received by the US delegation, let alone lead to a rethinking of Biden’s broader Asia strategy.”

Sherman was in China for a meeting with her counterparts on Sunday and Monday.

The aim of the meeting was not a negotiation but an attempt to keep high-level communication channels open, senior State Department officials said in a briefing with reporters over the weekend.

US officials expected to meet first with Xie and then with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The leaders are expected to work towards the first meeting of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden, which is likely to take place around the G-20 summit in October.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing Wednesday that Sherman would travel to China “from a position of strength,” similar to Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken’s meeting with his Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska.

That March meeting, the first high-level meeting between the two countries under Biden’s administration, began with an exchange of insults.

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In the months that followed, China’s Vice Premier Liu He, who led trade negotiations during the Trump administration, spoke on the phone with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. According to official information, these business-oriented talks were more amicable.

US tough stance on China

In addition to maintaining Trump’s tough stance on China, Biden is working more with U.S. allies to put overall pressure on China.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will also visit Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines while Blinken is visiting India.

Both the US and China “have a lot at stake” in working towards a meeting between Biden and Xi and will seek to show that the relationship is “not completely out of hand” while appearing strong, Michael Hirson , Trainer for China and Northeast Asia at Eurasia Group, said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

He said Biden was able to convince major G-7 nations to make strong statements against China but “has not yet formulated a trade strategy or other approach that would be really effective in countering China’s economic power.”

– CNBC’s Yen Nee Lee contributed to this report.

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