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Top US, China Diplomats Hold Closed-Door Meeting in Hawaii

FILE - Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi greets the media as he walks to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo in May 2019.
FILE - Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi greets the media as he walks to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's official residence in Tokyo in May 2019.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with China’s chief diplomat, Politburo member Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii on Wednesday.

The six-hour closed-door talks at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu was the first face-to-face meeting between Pompeo and Yang since August. They were accompanied by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai. Pompeo and Yang also met over a brief dinner Tuesday night.

Although neither side revealed the exact nature of the discussions, China’s state-run media described the talks as “constructive,” while a spokesperson for Pompeo stressed to Yang “the need for fully reciprocal dealings” between Washington and Beijing.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have plunged to their worst point in decades over numerous issues, including trade, Beijing’s tightening grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong, its growing presence in the South China Sea, and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first detected in central China late in December.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told VOA she was “not optimistic that this conversation will halt the downward slide in bilateral relations."

As the Pompeo-Yang meeting was taking place, President Donald Trump signed legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the mass incarceration of as many as 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday denouncing the new law, accusing Washington of interfering in China’s domestic affairs. The statement warned that if the U.S. did not “immediately correct its mistakes,” Beijing will “resolutely take countermeasures” which the United States will have to fully bear the consequences.

The meeting was also overshadowed by excerpts from an upcoming book by John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, which were released by The New York Times and Washington Post. Bolton alleges the U.S. president asked Xi to increase China’s purchase of American agricultural products to help Trump secure votes in farm states in his 2020 November re-election campaign, in return for a more favorable tariff rate on Chinese goods.

Bolton also alleges that Trump signaled his approval of China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. During an opening dinner of the 2019 G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan attended only by interpreters, Xi explained to Trump “why he was basically building concentration camps” in the northwest Chinese province. According to Bolton, the American interpreter said that Trump expressed that Xi should go ahead with building them.

Also on Wednesday, the United States joined other members of the Group of 7 major industrial nations to underscore “grave concern” regarding China’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong.

“We strongly urge the Government of China to re-consider this decision,” said G-7 foreign ministers in a statement.

“We are also extremely concerned that this action would curtail and threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of all the population protected by the rule of law and the existence of an independent justice system.”