US President Donald Trump, who has attacked China on issues from trade to the South China Sea, held his first face-to-face talks with a member of the Chinese leadership on Monday.
The White House said the meeting was a chance to discuss shared security interests and a possible meeting with President Xi Jinping, Reuters reports.
State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, met Trump briefly after talks with the new US National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster; Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner; and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the news agency said.
A senior US administration official said discussions included bilateral cooperation and the possibility of arranging a meeting between Trump and Xi, but no date was set.
The official said the meeting with Trump lasted five to seven minutes.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer called it “an opportunity to say ‘hi’ to the president” before Yang left.
“This was an opportunity to begin that conversation and talk to them on shared interests of national security,” he added at a regular news briefing.
According to China’s state news agency Xinhua, Yang recalled the phone conversation between the US and Chinese leaders, “which offered clear guidance on the direction of the development of the China-US relations in the next stage.
By following through on the spirit of the phone conversation and upholding the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, China is willing to enhance exchanges with the US at all levels from top down, and expand coordination and cooperation with the US on bilateral, regional and global issues, respect each others’ core interests and major concerns, Yang was quoted as saying.
Yang, who outranks China’s foreign minister, is the first top Chinese official to visit the White House since Trump took office on Jan. 20.
His visit followed a phone call between Yang and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, during which the two affirmed the importance of a constructive US-China relationship.
It was the latest step by the world’s two largest economies to try to put relations back on an even keel after a rocky start following Trump’s election victory.
Trump has been a strong critic of Beijing, accusing China of unfair trade policies, criticizing its island building in the strategic South China Sea, and accusing it of not doing enough to constrain its neighbor, North Korea.
Trump incensed Beijing in December by talking to the president of Taiwan and saying the United States did not have to stick to the “one China” policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.
Trump later agreed in a phone call with Xi to honor the “one China” policy in a diplomatic boost for Beijing, which vehemently opposes criticism of its claim to self-ruled Taiwan.
Xinhua quoted a researcher at a government-backed think tank as saying a discussion of when and where Trump and Xi would meet first would be on the top of the agenda during Yang’s visit.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Trump pressed China to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, saying Beijing could resolve the issue “very easily if it wanted to”.
China on Friday dismissed Trump’s remarks, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.
Beijing has repeatedly called for a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.
As Yang held talks at the White House, senior officials from the US, Japan and South Korea met at the State Department to discuss additional measures to choke off funding to North Korea’s weapons program.
“The officials considered other possible measures under national authorities, including means to restrict further the revenue sources for North Korea’s weapons programs, particularly illicit activities,” they said in a joint statement.
They also agreed that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs directly threatened their security and “strong international pressure” was needed to push back at Pyongyang, the statement added.
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