WASHINGTON—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii on Wednesday, the State Department said.
The two have been at loggerheads over the handling of the Chinese Communist Party virus pandemic, as China witnesses what could be the start of a second wave of the virus, as well as over Beijing’s move to impose its national security laws on Hong Kong.
Tensions have also been increasing in China’s neighboring North Korea. The United States and China share concerns about that country’s nuclear weapons program.
Even as the meeting got underway, U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation calling for sanctions against those responsible for the repression of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
Separately, foreign ministers of the G7 countries, including Pompeo, issued a statement calling on China not to follow through with the Hong Kong legislation.
Pompeo has been forceful in his criticism of Beijing and it was his first known contact with Yang since they discussed the coronavirus by phone on April 15. They had not met face to face since last year.
Experts say U.S.-China relations have reached their lowest point in years, and in mid-May Trump went so far as to suggest he could cut ties with Beijing.
The bill Trump signed calls for sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for oppressing Uyghurs, including on one of Yang’s colleagues on China’s powerful Politburo.
Trump tempered that possibility with a signing statement saying that some of the bill’s sanctions requirements might limit his constitutional authority as president to conduct diplomacy so he would regard them as advisory, not mandatory.
Neither side has outlined an agenda for the Hawaii talks, but diplomats and other sources have said the meeting was requested by China.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also told a congressional hearing that Chinese officials had repeatedly affirmed their commitment to buy more U.S. goods and services under a Phase 1 trade deal signed in January and that some $10 billion in purchases had been recorded thus far.
Lighthizer also said, when asked about exports of products made by Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups in camps in China, that Washington would “strongly enforce” U.S. laws banning the import of goods made by forced labor.
Among his criticisms of China, Pompeo has said it could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths from the global coronavirus pandemic by being more transparent, and accused it of refusing to share information.
Trump has initiated a process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong to punish China for curbing freedoms there, but has stopped short of immediately ending privileges that have helped the territory remain a global financial center.
By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom