WASHINGTON—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii to “exchange views on U.S.-China relations,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said late Wednesday.
“The Secretary stressed important American interests and the need for fully-reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security, and diplomatic interactions,” she continued. “He also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.”
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.
As the meeting got underway, U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation calling for sanctions against those responsible for the repression of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region amid allegations in former national security adviser John Bolton’s controversial book that Trump had said Chinese leader Xi Jinping should go ahead with building camps in Xinjiang.
Bolton was ousted by the Trump administration in September 2019. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that Bolton was working against the president.
The Trump administration’s newly signed Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 condemns “gross human rights violations of specified ethnic Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region in China and other purposes, including specified authority to impose sanctions on certain foreign persons.”
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. The Epoch Times contributed to this article.