U.S., China agree to continue engagement amid strained ties

18, Jun. 2020

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WASHINGTON, Kyodo - U.S. and Chinese foreign policy chiefs agreed to continue engagement and communication in their talks in Hawaii on Wednesday, Chinese media said, emphasizing that the dialogue was constructive despite the countries' strained relations over Hong Kong and the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. State Department did not say if there was any agreement reached between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi in its statement released after the meeting in Honolulu.

"The secretary stressed important American interests and the need for fully reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security, and diplomatic interactions," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

She added that Pompeo had underscored the need "for full transparency and information sharing" to combat the pandemic and prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks.

The meeting was requested by China, according to Reuters.

The previous known meeting between Pompeo and Yang, who is a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, was last August. The two held phone talks in April this year, but there have been no signs of an improvement in relations as the two countries continue to spar over the origins of the novel coronavirus.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has blamed China for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the pandemic, alleging that Beijing covered up the outbreak in the country and has prevented the world from knowing its precise origins.

The United States has also fiercely attacked China over its recent move to impose security legislation on Hong Kong, with Pompeo calling the move "a death knell" for the high degree of autonomy that Beijing promised for the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997.

Adding to tensions in the bilateral relationship, Trump on Wednesday signed into law a bill aimed at imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against the country's Muslim Uyghur minority.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday voiced strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to Trump's move, saying the matter is "purely China's internal affairs and no foreign interference is allowed."

The United States has been particularly concerned about what it calls the arbitrary detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps in China's far-western Xinjiang autonomous region.

China calls the institutions vocational training centers and claims they are necessary to combat terrorism and religious extremism.

Under the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which Trump signed, the president should provide a report to Congress that identifies officials responsible for torture and other inhumane treatment of Muslim minorities and others in Xinjiang no later than 180 days after the law's enactment.

Those deemed responsible would face sanctions such as asset freezes, denials of entry into the United States or visa revocation.

Both chambers of Congress passed the bill in May with bipartisan support. (Kyodo)