US: China Not Forthcoming in Hawaii Talks

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WASHINGTON – The United States said China was not forthcoming in Hawaii talks when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member Yang Jiechi.

The two discussed issues including Hong Kong, arms control, North Korea and the coronavirus pandemic, although Beijing did commit to following through on Phase 1 of the trade deal between the world’s leading economies.

Top diplomats from the U.S. and China concluded closed-door meetings in Honolulu on Wednesday, as Washington asked China to take steps to create reciprocity and provide more information about COVID-19.

“Whether or not [they] were productive, look at what comes up in the next couple of weeks,” said Dave Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, in a phone briefing late Thursday afternoon. “Do we see a reduction in [Chinese] aggressive behavior or not?”

China said Yang held constructive talks with Pompeo. China’s state-run outlets said both sides agreed to take action to implement the consensus reached by leaders of the two nations, without elaborating.

“Trust is a function of words and deeds,” said Stilwell when asked by VOA to describe the trust level between the U.S. and China. He added “the U.S. can’t be accused of not investing significant effort in making sure the relationship has the opportunity to be productive.”

Stilwell said how China implemented the Phase 1 trade deal would be a “good acid test” as to whether Beijing was a cooperative partner, adding Washington is clear about wanting a “results-oriented relationship” with Beijing.

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump renewed his threat to cut ties with China. Trump has made rebalancing trade with Beijing his top priority.

Trump said in a tweet that “the U.S. certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China.”

The six-hour closed-door talks at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu were the first face-to-face meeting between Pompeo and Yang since August.  They were accompanied by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai. Pompeo and Yang also met over a brief dinner Tuesday night.

“The secretary stressed important American interests and the need for fully reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security and diplomatic interactions. He also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have plunged to their worst point in decades over numerous issues, including trade, Beijing’s tightening grip on semiautonomous Hong Kong, its growing presence in the South China Sea and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which was first detected in central China late last December. 

Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told VOA she was “not optimistic that this conversation will halt the downward slide in bilateral relations.”

As the Pompeo-Yang meeting was taking place, Trump signed legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the mass incarceration of as many as 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday denouncing the new law, accusing Washington of interfering in China’s domestic affairs. The statement warned that if the U.S. did not “immediately correct its mistakes,” Beijing would “resolutely take countermeasures” and the United States would have to fully bear the consequences.

On Wednesday, the United States joined other members of the Group of Seven major industrial nations to underscore “grave concern” regarding China’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong.

“We strongly urge the Government of China to reconsider this decision,” said G-7 foreign ministers in a statement.

“We are also extremely concerned that this action would curtail and threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of all the population protected by the rule of law and the existence of an independent justice system.”