China said bluntly against the United States that they had to stop sending ships and military aircraft near islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea during talks that formed the platform for a meeting between President Donald Trump on Friday and president Xi Jinping later this month.
The US have been pushed back and have insisted that it continue to "fly, sail and operate where international legislation permits". At the end of September, American and Chinese ships almost collided with a disputed reef.
Despite the frank expression of differences at the Washington meeting of the top diplomats and military chiefs of both nations, both sides stressed the need to raise the tensions that have arisen amidst a bitter trade dispute that Trump and Xi are expected to address. at the Group of 20 top in Argentina.
"The United States is not pursuing a policy for the containment of the Cold War with China," state secretary Mike Pompeo told journalists after the diplomatic and security dialogue between the US and China. "On the contrary, we want to ensure that China acts responsibly and fairly to support the security and prosperity of each of our two countries."
The talks were to be held in Beijing last month, but were postponed after Washington announced new arms sales to Taiwan, and after a Chinese destroyer came close to USS Decatur in late September in what the US Navy called an "unsafe and unprofessional maneuver."
Beijing has far-reaching but disputed sovereignty claims in the area.
"The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its ships and undermine military planes near Chinese islands and reefs and actions that undermine Chinese authority and security interests," says Pompeo & # 39; s Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, who also sharp words about US support for Taiwan.
However, Yang and the Chinese Defense Minister, Wei Fenghe, discussed the need to improve cooperation, among others between the US and Chinese armies, to reduce the risk of conflict, as the two powers in the Asia-Pacific gain popularity.
"Cooperation is the only option for us," said Wei. "Confrontation and conflict between the two armies will be disastrous for all of us."
Defense Minister Jim Mattis has confirmed the US freedom of navigation rights, but also said that the two sides should work together in areas of common interest. "Competition does not mean hostility and should not lead to conflict," Mattis said.
Although the rearrangement of the dialogue was a signal from the two parties to suppress the change in the relationship, this did not address the main trade dispute. Trump has hit rates on $ 250 billion in Chinese products in an attempt to reduce the US trade deficit and push back against what the US sees as predatory Chinese tactics in the high-tech industry. Beijing has retaliated with rates for $ 110 million in American goods.
Yun Sun, a China expert in the Stimson Center think tank, said that Beijing is uncertain as to what Trump wants from a trade agreement, but hopes that with US mid-term elections, the Mercurial American president is more inclined to reach a compromise. "Their top priority is to stabilize relationships," she said.
In the area of human rights, Pompeo expressed his concern about China's treatment of religious minorities, including the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims from minority groups. But in general, the tone of American officials' public remarks was milder than that of the Chinese. Yang insisted that Chinese people have the freedom of religion, and that "foreign countries have no right to intervene".