Senior US State Department official to visit China amid tense ties

WASHINGTON – A senior US State Department official will travel to China this week, it said on Saturday, as Washington seeks to boost communication with Beijing at a time of tense relations between the two countries.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink will discuss “key issues in the bilateral relationship” during his visit to China, the State Department said.

He will be joined by White House National Security Council senior director for China and Taiwan Affairs Sarah Beran.

Ties between the world’s two largest economies are strained over issues from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to military activity in the South China Sea.

During his travels from Sunday to June 10, Mr Kritenbrink will also visit New Zealand to participate in the United States-New Zealand Strategic Dialogue.

The visit could see him in Beijing on or near June 4, the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops on demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that rights groups said killed hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment further on the exact dates of the US diplomat’s travel.

Earlier on Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement marking the anniversary of the crackdown, saying “the victims’ bravery will not be forgotten and continues to inspire advocates for these principles around the world”.

Mr Kritenbrink’s trip follows a visit last month to China by CIA Director William Burns. A US official said Mr Burns “emphasised the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels” in meetings with his Chinese counterparts.

On Saturday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin rebuked China for refusing to hold military talks.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s top security summit, he said Beijing’s reluctance to talk undermined efforts to maintain peace in a region where the two rivals are increasing their military firepower.

Mr Blinken postponed a planned February trip to China after an alleged Chinese spy balloon flew through US airspace over sensitive military sites, kicking off a diplomatic crisis.

But the White House has said further efforts are being made to facilitate visits by Mr Blinken, as well as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

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