Frost thaws in US-China ties ahead of G20 meeting

Published 07.11.2018 00:00

The United States and China will hold a delayed top-level security dialogue on Friday, the latest sign of a thaw in relations, as China's vice president said Beijing was willing to talk with Washington to resolve their bitter trade dispute.

The resumption of high-level dialogue, marked by a phone call last week between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, comes ahead of an expected meeting between the two at the G20 summit in Argentina starting in late November. It follows months of recriminations spanning trade, U.S. accusations of Chinese political interference, the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan.

China and the United States have both described last week's telephone call between Xi and Trump as positive. Trump predicted he'd be able to make a deal with China on trade.

In a concrete sign of the unfreezing, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will take part in diplomatic and security talks later this week in Washington.

China said last month the two sides had initially agreed "in principle" to hold the second round of diplomatic security talks in October but they were postponed at Washington's request amid rising tensions over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Mattis had been due to hold talks with Wei in Beijing in October, but those plans were upended after Washington imposed sanctions on China's People's Liberation Army for buying weapons from Russia.

The arms sale coincides with a U.S. decision to issue a visa ban and assets freeze on China's Equipment Development Department and its director, Li Shangfu, over the purchase from Russia of Su-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment this year. China's purchase of the weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter, violated a 2017 law intended to punish the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in U.S. elections and other activities. In response, China demanded the sanctions be revoked, summoned the American ambassador and defense attaché to deliver a protest, and recalled its naval commander from a U.S. trip.

On security, the focus of Friday's talks, the United States has accused China of increasingly bold moves in the dispute-rife South China Sea and of harassing U.S. warships in international waters. Also likely high on the agenda will be North Korea, which counts on China as its most important ally. Pompeo is due to meet tomorrow in New York with the right-hand man of leader Kim Jong Un, who held an unprecedented summit with Trump in Singapore in June. Trump is eager to meet Kim again to work on a potentially historic deal to close the Korean War officially. Trump and Xi are separately expected to hold talks in one month's time in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies.

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