China fault lines on display as top officials meet

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Chinese Minister of National Defence Wei Fenghe were also present at the press conference.

Standing side by side, top USA officials urged their Chinese counterparts on Friday to halt militarization of the disputed South China Sea, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese for sending US warships close to islands claimed by Beijing in the strategic waterway. -China security talks in Washington.

The defense chiefs and top foreign affairs officials of the two countries met in Washington for a regular dialogue that had been pushed back amid months of spiraling tensions between the world's two largest economies.

Despite the airing of grievances, the talks appeared aimed at controlling the damage to relations that has worsened in recent months and at paving the way for an encounter between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina at the end of November.

On the other hand, Mr. Pompeo demanded that China respect the human rights of Buddhists and Muslims, for which Mr. Yang told the USA not to interfere in "China's internal affairs".

While the USA and others have pointed to China's construction of facilities in the South China Sea that effectively create military bases, Yang suggested said that if any country is militarizing the region, it is the US.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, shakes hands with Chinese Politburo Member Yang Jiechi at the conclusion of a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

A planned trip to Beijing by Mr Mattis last month was halted as military tensions between the U.S. and China escalated.

Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center think tank, said Beijing is uncertain about what exactly Trump wants out of a trade deal, but hopes that with US midterm elections out of the way, the mercurial American president may be more inclined to reach a compromise.

Jeffrey Ordaniel, a research fellow at the Pacific Forum, said on Twitter that although the demand by the US was a first, it was "very unlikely" that China would heed that call.

"Our (China-US) trade and economic relations are mutually beneficial by nature and have delivered tangible gains to both the countries and its people".

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Yang said China was committed to "nonconfrontation" but that Beijing had the right to build "necessary defense facilities" on what it considers its own territory.

Mattis made clear that this demand go unheeded by Washington, which insists it is acting under worldwide law to preserve access for it and others to the South China Sea.

The disputed sea is a major Asian trade route, where Beijing has landfilled areas for military infrastructure.

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Mr Trump has vowed to inflict more tariffs that would hit nearly all Beijing's U.S. exports if China retaliates further.

China's foreign ministry said Yang Jiechi met U.S. national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday and that the two sides should "properly manage differences and carefully prepare to ensure positive results in the Argentina meeting".

Since then relations have soured and they have become embroiled in a major trade war in which the United States has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods and China has retaliated with tariffs on $110 billion worth of USA goods.

Trump's administration has also accused China of meddling in US politics ahead of this week's congressional elections, charges China strongly denies. He signed the Taiwan Travel Act earlier this year, which encourages visits "at all levels" between US and Taiwanese officials.

"We want this to be a constructive, results-orientated relationship with China", U.S. Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, told reporters on Thursday.

"Foreign countries have no right to interfere", he said.

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