WASHINGTON/BEIJING • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii on Wednesday in rare high-level face-to-face talks amid tensions between the two countries.
The world’s two largest economies have been at loggerheads over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and China’s move to impose security legislation on Hong Kong, among multiple points of friction this year.
Mr Yang told Mr Pompeo that Washington needs to respect Beijing’s positions on key issues, halt its interference in matters such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, and work to repair relations, China’s foreign ministry said.
Mr Pompeo, who has been singled out for scathing criticism by Chinese diplomats and state media, stressed “the need for fully reciprocal dealings between the two nations”, US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said.
“He also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks,” she added.
Hours after the meeting ended, China said its top parliamentary body will review draft Hong Kong national security legislation during a session that began yesterday.
Earlier, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven countries, including Mr Pompeo, had issued a statement urging China not to follow through with the legislation, which critics call an assault on the city’s democratic freedoms.
US President Donald Trump has started a process of eliminating special treatment for Hong Kong to punish China for curbing freedoms in the city, but has stopped short of immediately ending privileges.
As the meeting between Mr Pompeo and Mr Yang got under way, Mr Trump signed legislation calling for sanctions against those responsible for repressing Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, prompting a threat of retaliation from Beijing.
Professor Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, said that the meeting could reduce “microphone diplomacy” between the two bickering sides, but that he was doubtful it would stabilise relations.
“Trump will continue to criticise China in the lead-up to the US elections,” he said.
Mr Pompeo has been forceful in his criticism of Beijing. He has said China could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths from the pandemic by being more transparent with its information.
Wednesday’s meeting was Mr Pompeo’s first known contact with Mr Yang since they discussed Covid-19 by phone on April 15, and their first face-to-face since 2019.
Neither side outlined an agenda for the Hawaii talks, but diplomats and other sources said the meeting was requested by China.
US-China relations have reached their lowest point in years. In mid-May, Mr Trump, who has pursued a deal to end a trade war he launched against China, went so far as to suggest he could cut ties with Beijing.
While Mr Trump has stepped up rhetoric against China in the run-up to the Nov 3 US elections, his former national security adviser John Bolton said in a new book to be published that the US leader had sought Chinese President Xi Jinping’s help to win re-election.