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U.S. diplomat No. 2 Sherman to visit China as tensions soar

WASHINGTON (AP) – Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to China this weekend for a visit that comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing soar on multiple fronts, senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Sherman will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and others in Tianjin, in the northeast of the country on Sunday, as part of his current trip to Asia, which also takes him to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia, officials told reporters.

Sherman will be the top US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have met with Wang and veteran Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, in March for what turned out to be a contentious first exchange. John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special climate envoy, traveled to Shanghai for meetings with his Chinese counterpart in April, but Sherman is now overtaking him.

Sherman’s visit to China follows a significant deterioration in already strained US-China relations in the past two weeks alone, and questions have arisen as to why the trip was not announced at the same time than the remainder of his trip to the region.

Officials did not confirm suggestions that the Chinese initially proposed only officials below Sherman. But they said the Biden administration would not have accepted the visit unless they were assured Sherman would be able to see high-ranking officials in person.

Officials were not allowed to preview the trip publicly before an official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked about Sherman’s route on Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration was “exploring opportunities” for a face-to-face dialogue with high-level Chinese officials.

“The President believes that there is no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy, that we are prepared, if appropriate, to engage in direct diplomacy with the PRC if and when it is in our best interests,” and when we think it would be constructive and meaningful to do so, “said Price, referring to the People’s Republic of China.” We only make announcements once and if we determine that a visit has the potential to be exactly that.

Officials said Sherman’s agenda would be broad and cover areas of contention as well as a narrower set of areas of convergence, such as a mutual desire to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table for nuclear negotiations. . But they admitted that the differences are vast and striking and likely to occupy most of the discussion.

On Monday, the administration accused China of being behind a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange mail server software and indicted four Chinese nationals for attempting to steal trade secrets, technology and research on diseases in the United States.

Last week, the United States issued separate warnings against transactions with entities that operate in the western Xinjiang region, where China is accused of cracking down on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities. The administration also briefed U.S. companies on the deteriorating business and investment environment in Hong Kong, where China cracked down on democratic freedoms it pledged to uphold in the former British colony.

At the same time, the administration reaffirmed a Trump-era policy shift that rejects nearly all of China’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea and reminded Beijing that any military action against the Philippines in disputed areas would trigger a response under US-Filipino rule. mutual defense treaty.

Sino-US relations have also been worsened by growing threats from China to Taiwan and its Tibet policy.

These issues, all inherited from the Trump administration, have added to lingering tensions over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in the city of Wuhan, and concerns about predatory Chinese investments around the world in development and its attempts to achieve supremacy in the global high-tech telecommunications sector.

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