By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
(CNN) — Senior American and Chinese officials had “candid” and “productive” discussions on Monday in China, according to read-outs from both Washington and Beijing, as the two countries grapple with how to maintain communication amid intense friction.
Top US State Department and National Security Council officials met with Chinese officials in Beijing on Monday “as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” according to a readout from the US State Department.
The trip by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and NSC Senior Director for China and Taiwan Affairs Sarah Beran to the Chinese capital comes as the Biden administration works to navigate its complicated relationship with Beijing.
There have been a number of exchanges as the United States works to rectify normal channels of communications amid ongoing tensions between the two nations, including two military-related incidents in the past week.
According to the readout from the State Department, Kritenbrink and Beran, accompanied by US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Executive Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and Director General of the North American and Oceanian Affairs Department Yang Tao. They also “met with members of the U.S. Embassy community.”
“The two sides exchanged views on the bilateral relationship, cross-Strait issues, channels of communication, and other matters. U.S. officials made clear that the United States would compete vigorously and stand up for U.S. interests and values,” the readout said.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the two sides had “candid, constructive, and productive communication on improving China-US relations” and “properly managing differences” in line with the consensus reached by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden, who met on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali in November.
China also clarified its “solemn position” on Taiwan and other major issues of principle, according to its readout, which added that the two sides agreed to continue communication.
The self-governing democracy of Taiwan has become a key source of tension between the two countries. China’s ruling Communist Party claims the island as its own, despite never having controlled it and has not ruled out using force to take it.
On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that a conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be “devastating” and affect the global economy “in ways we cannot imagine,” while underlining US support for the island democracy and the importance of deterrence.
State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Monday that other bilateral issues discussed in Monday’s meeting included climate change, precursor chemicals from China that are used in fentanyl production, human rights, and wrongfully detained American citizens. There are three Americans publicly known to be wrongfully detained in China: Mark Swidan, Kai Li and David Lin.
Patel did not say if the meeting in Beijing yielded progress on rescheduling Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s own visit to the Chinese capital, which was postponed after the spy balloon incident earlier this year. Instead, Patel reiterated that the department hoped to schedule the trip “when conditions allow.”
US officials have emphasized their desire to maintain open channels of communication with China as a means to prevent the “competitive” relationship from veering into conflict. China rebuffed a formal meeting of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu while they were both in Singapore, though the two ministers shook hands and “spoke briefly,” the Pentagon said.
“The most dangerous thing is not to communicate and as a result, to have a misunderstanding, a miscommunication,” Blinken said at a press availability in Sweden last week after the US asserted that a Chinese fighter jet conducted an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” during an intercept of a US spy plane in international airspace.
On Sunday, the US accused a Chinese warship of cutting in front of an American vessel that was taking part in a joint exercise with the Canadian navy in the Taiwan Strait, forcing the American vessel to slow down to avoid a collision. The Chinese defense minister accused the US of “provocation.”
John Kirby of the US National Security Council on Monday attributed the incidents to an “increasing level of aggressiveness” by China’s military.
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CNN’s Betsy Klein, Brad Lendon, and Eric Cheung contributed to this report.