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Conciliatory tone as top diplomats from United States and China meet

Conciliatory tone as top diplomats from United States and China meet
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool -
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By Cate Cadell and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi met face-to-face for the first time this year on Thursday and Wang said they discussed ways to promote China-U.S. ties despite “recent disturbances”.

The words contrasted with the scorn Chinese officials have heaped on Pompeo recently, with U.S.-Chinese ties souring on multiple fronts, from a trade war to U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

“There may be at various times issues and problems between China and the United States, but no matter how many problems it is important for both sides to sit down and have face-to-face discussions,” Wang said after the meeting of roughly 30 minutes.

Both officials are in the Thai capital of Bangkok for security meetings with countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping, on the front line of rivalry between the United States and an increasingly muscular China.

After the meeting, Pompeo said on Twitter that he had an in-depth exchange of views with Wang on U.S.-China relations, North Korea and other topics.

“When it advances U.S. interests, we are ready to cooperate with China,” he said.

At the start of a meeting with Southeast Asian counterparts, Pompeo said the United States never asked countries in the region to choose sides, though he did mention commitment to national sovereignty, the rule of law and human rights, touchy points with China.

Neither mentioned the South China Sea, where the United States has increasingly pressured China over its sweeping maritime claims and where recent Chinese confrontations with Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam have increased tension.

Wang said Pompeo made clear that Washington did not aim to contain China’s development and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the one-China policy regarding Taiwan.

He said China welcomed Washington’s willingness to resume talks with North Korea on denuclearisation and was willing to create favourable conditions to help restart the talks.

Analysts said the apparently conciliatory tone at the meeting could be aimed at avoiding stoking conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“They don’t want Pompeo to report back to Trump that China is using the South China issue as a bargaining tool in the bigger China-U.S. game,” said Eduardo Araral, an expert on water policy at the National University of Singapore.

“So they probably try to dial down the tension in their rhetoric.”

U.S. and Chinese negotiators ended a brief round of trade talks in Shanghai on Wednesday with little sign of progress and agreed to meet again in September, prolonging an uneasy truce in a year-long trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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