Secretary of State John Kerry and national security adviser Susan Rice held talks Tuesday with a senior Chinese official on managing differences and expanding cooperation between the two world powers. A White House statement provided few details about the meeting with State Councilor Yang Jiechi in New York. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the two sides “reviewed progress in bringing about a more durable, stable and productive bilateral relationship.”
The Obama administration has forged cooperation with Beijing on issues such as climate change, but as it enters its final months in office, there are growing signs of strain in bilateral relations amid tensions in the South China Sea and provocations by China ally North Korea.
US officials said the low-key meeting was probably the last opportunity for extended discussions with Yang before a new US administration take office in January. Yang is a familiar Chinese interlocutor for Washington. He has also served as China’s foreign minister and ambassador to the US.
A Chinese government statement said the two sides agreed to maintain high-level exchanges to extend pragmatic cooperation and manage their differences so US-China relations move forward steadily.
President Barack Obama has made a sustained push to increase US engagement in the Asia-Pacific. That’s been viewed by China as an attempt to contain its rise as a military and economic power.
US officials have expressed growing frustration that China, which agreed to tough UN sanctions against North Korea in March, is still importing large amounts of coal from its unpredictable ally. Potentially, that provides a vital source of revenue for Kim Jong Un’s government that could aid its weapons development.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and 24 missile tests this year, demonstrating its progress toward its stated goal of being able to strike the US with nuclear-tipped missiles.
The US outreach into Asia has also suffered recent setbacks as the Philippines and Malaysia, which had grown closer to Washington during Obama’s presidency, have sought closer ties with China. Leaders of both Southeast Asian nations have made high-profile trips to Beijing in the past two weeks.
State Department spokesman John Kirby pushed back Tuesday against perceptions that the US was losing friends in the region.
“We have nothing to fear from the peaceful, productive rise of China and we have nothing to fear from nations establishing better and warmer and more productive relationships with China,” he told reporters.