Published: Sat, November 10, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

US Presses China on Religious Rights, South China Sea, Taiwan

US Presses China on Religious Rights, South China Sea, Taiwan

Standing side by side, top USA officials urged their Chinese counterparts on Friday to halt militarization of the disputed South China Sea, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese for sending US warships close to islands claimed by Beijing in the strategic waterway.

"I reiterated the USA policy has not changed, and that we are concerned about China's increasing efforts to coerce others constraining Taiwan's global space", Pompeo said.

Friday's Washington talks saw the Chinese and U.S. parties locked in discussions over trade and China's clampdown on its Muslim minority, as well as security concerns.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet with their counterparts Yang Jiechi and Wei Fenghe at the State Department.

The conversations were held in an atmosphere of responsibility and respect, according to Mr. Pompeo, who acknowledged that China and the United States face "significant differences between our nations" in such areas as trade, due to the mutual imposition of billions of dollars in tariffs.

"The game that China has played - and they played people in the Bush administration like a violin - is to do the tap dance of economic dialogue", Navarro said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Despite the airing of grievances, the talks appeared aimed at controlling the damage to relations that has worsened in recent months and at paving the way for an encounter between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina at the end of November.

Pompeo took aim at China over its continued building of military installations on artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where China insists it has sovereignty despite competing claims from some smaller neighbors.

Mattis responded that the United States would "fly, sail and operate wherever worldwide law allows".

"I have agreed with President Trump to meet during the upcoming G20 summit in Argentina, where the two sides can have an in-depth exchange of views on issues of common concern", Xi said.

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But just as he was speaking, a top advisor to Trump, Peter Navarro, vowed to press China hard on trade.

"Even as the two countries (US and China) confront important differences in the bilateral relationship, their cooperation remains essential on many, many central issues", Pompeo said. "Rather, we want to make sure China acts responsibly and fairly".

China and the USA are now locked in an ongoing trade war as each country has introduced tariffs on goods traded between each other.

A planned trip to Beijing by Mr Mattis last month was halted as military tensions between the USA and China escalated.

"China is committed to working with the U.S. to achieve a non-confrontational, conflict-free, mutually respectful cooperation in which both sides win", it quoted Yang as saying.

"There is no such problem of freedom of navigation and overflights being obstructed, so to use this issue as an excuse to military action is unjustifiable", he said.

"Both sides should seek an appropriate solution through equal and mutually beneficial negotiations", said Yang, adding that the essence of China, U.S. trade and economic ties is mutually beneficial.

Since then relations have soured and they have become embroiled in a major trade war in which the United States has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods and China has retaliated with tariffs on $110 billion worth of U.S. goods.

Despite twists and turns, Sino-U.S. relations have generally maintained steady progress over the past four decades, Xi said.

Yang defended China's policies in Xinjiang as measures against "ethnic separatist activities and violent terrorist crimes" but said it was a Chinese internal affair and foreign governments should not interfere.

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