WASHINGTON - The United States and China will hold top-level security talks on Friday, the State Department announced, in a sign of easing tensions after months of escalation over trade and regional disputes.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will host their Chinese counterparts in Washington for the second U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, following a meeting in June 2017.
The announcement of talks with senior Communist Party foreign affairs official Yang Jiechi and Gen. Wei Fenghe came on the eve of U.S. congressional elections, in which President Donald Trump has cast China as a villain set on bringing him down.
In early October, a U.S. defense official said that a planned visit by Mattis to China had been canceled because Beijing declined to make Wei available.
But addressing a Middle East security conference last week, Mattis said his Chinese counterpart would shortly travel to Washington, adding that “strategic competition does not imply hostility.”
Washington and Beijing have been locked in a high-stakes standoff over Trump’s move to end what he says have been years of unfair trade practices by China.
Trump imposed new tariffs on roughly half of Chinese imports this summer while Beijing fired back with tariffs on most U.S. products.
Trump turned the feud into a full-press offensive — boosting military support for rival Taiwan, stepping up denunciations of Beijing’s human rights record and curtailing its access to U.S. nuclear technology.
In a speech that some observers said recalled the Cold War, Vice President Mike Pence vowed to challenge China on multiple fronts and accused Beijing of interfering in U.S. elections by buying advertisements extolling the trade relationship.
But Trump sounded a more conciliatory note last week, heralding “very good” talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and later declaring that he expected their trade conflict to end with “a very good deal.”
Xi earlier Monday also offered a more forward-looking note as he wooed investors in Shanghai. He pledged to welcome imports, streamline customs clearance and crack down on intellectual property infringement — longtime goals of foreign business leaders, although many of them have grown jaded after similar promises in the past.
Friday’s talks, however, will focus foremost on security. 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, with Pompeo due to meet Thursday in New York with the second highest-ranking official of the totalitarian state, which counts on China as its most important ally.
Trump held an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and is eager for a second meeting. 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.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a visiting delegation of U.S. lawmakers last week that he hoped their countries can meet “halfway” amid friction over trade, security and other issues.