The United States stopped just short of announcing a widely anticipated summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday, after two days of talks in Washington with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang's visit, following a series of recent diplomatic encounters between the two countries, had been seen in part as preparation for a possible face-to-face meeting between the two leaders on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next month.
But in a telephone briefing for reporters late Friday, a senior administration official told reporters only that work was proceeding "toward" that goal.
"The two sides affirmed that they would work together toward a meeting between President Biden and President Xi in November in San Francisco," the official said.
The official added that the U.S. side was preparing arrangements for a possible meeting but noted that the Chinese side usually does not announce such meetings until much closer to the time.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said they were "hopeful" to see "some progress" in the resumption of senior-level military-to-military dialogue between the two countries.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to VOA's Mandarin Service on Friday that the United States would send a representative to a Chinese international military forum, the 10th Xiangshan Forum, beginning in Beijing this weekend.
Earlier on Friday, Biden held hourlong talks with Wang.
"The president emphasized that both the United States and China need to manage competition in the relationship responsibly and maintain open lines of communication. He underscored that the United States and China must work together to address global challenges," said the White House in a readout Friday afternoon.
Biden last met with Xi face to face on the sidelines of last November's G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
At the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a second day of talks Friday with Wang on issues including Israel's war with Hamas, Russia's war on Ukraine, the fentanyl crisis, the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Blinken's six hours of meetings with Wang were described as "candid and in depth."
The first face-to-face talks between the top diplomats reflected efforts by Washington and Beijing to stabilize their fraught relationship.
"In [Biden's] view, this was a positive development and a good opportunity to keep the conversation going," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said of Biden's meeting with Wang. Blinken and U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan also attended the meeting.
Blinken has called on China to use its influence over Iran to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spreading.
In a phone briefing with reporters on Friday evening, a U.S. official said China should use its relations with the Middle East countries to urge calm on all sides.
"I think it's fair to say we expressed our deep concern with the situation and pressed China to take a more constructive approach. And that would include, of course, their engagements with the Iranians to urge calm," the official said after meetings with Wang concluded.
China's top diplomat Wang did not answer questions when asked if Beijing was willing to use its influence over Iran to prevent a widening of the Middle East conflict.
But in Congress, some U.S. lawmakers point to China's growing alignment with Russia and Iran.
"It should be a wake-up call to the West. Increasingly, it looks like we have an axis of authoritarian powers that are arrayed against our interests, those of our allies," said Representative Mike Gallagher, who chairs the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party.
"China is the dominant player in this partnership. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is a junior partner. But increasingly, there's collaboration with Iran," Gallagher told VOA Mandarin this week.
South China Sea
Earlier on Friday, the U.S. military said a Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of an American B-52 bomber flying over the South China Sea, nearly causing an accident.
"This unsafe intercept underscores the importance of maintaining open military-to-military ties to minimize the risk of miscalculation and unintended conflict, which includes maintaining communication channels at both senior levels and operator levels," a State Department spokesperson told VOA.
"I think we're hopeful that we'll see some progress," said the senior official. Washington has been pressing Beijing to resume high-level military-to-military dialogue since Li Shangfu, who was under U.S. sanctions, was removed as China's defense chief.
On Wednesday, Biden reiterated Washington's support for the Philippines following a recent incident in which Chinese ships blocked and collided with two Philippine vessels near Second Thomas Shoal in the contested South China Sea.
"Just this past week, the PRC vessels acted dangerously and unlawfully as our Philippine friends conducted a routine resupply mission within their own exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea," Biden said, using an acronym for the People's Republic of China.
But he added the U.S. was "not looking for a conflict" with China.
China asserts sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway with competing territorial claims from several other countries.
Need for dialogue
Blinken hosted Wang at the State Department for a working dinner on Thursday after meetings earlier in the day.
Just before his two-hour meeting with Blinken on Thursday afternoon, Wang told reporters that "China and the United States need to have dialogue" that's "in depth and comprehensive" so that they can reduce misunderstanding and "return to the track of healthy, stable and sustainable development."
"In China-U.S. relations, from time to time there will be some jarring voices," he said, adding "what is right and what is wrong is not determined by who has the strongest arm or a loud voice."
Wang's remarks came a day after Biden said that China's global infrastructure push, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, had left its partners "dead in the noose."
VOA White House Bureau Chief Pasty Widakuswara and Yihua Lee of VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.