By David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -China’s commerce minister will visit the United States next week for meetings with the commerce secretary and Washington’s top trade official, the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington said on Thursday, as the U.S. seeks engagement with Beijing to salve damaged ties.
Liu Pengyu made the announcement at a Chinese embassy online briefing with journalists, adding that Beijing was open to communication at all levels with United States, but only on the basis of mutual respect.
The Chinese embassy later said in an emailed statement that both sides were still discussing details of the plans.
A source familiar with planning for the meetings said that Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao was expected to meet with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington next week before traveling to Detroit for a meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers.
Wang would then meet with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of that gathering, scheduled for May 25-26.
Spokespersons for Tai’s and Raimondo’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.
Washington has expressed eagerness for high-level meetings with China in an effort to keep increasingly tense relations from veering toward conflict.
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s top diplomat Wang Yi last week in Vienna, and both sides recognized the need to move beyond an alleged spy balloon incident that dented relations between the superpowers, a senior U.S. official has said.
Biden has been seeking to hold a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping but neither side has offered updates on the prospects for such a call, or on the possibility of rescheduling a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Blinken postponed a planned February trip after the U.S. shot down a Chinese balloon that flew over sensitive military sites.
“It is imperative for the U.S. side to adopt a correct perception of China and we hope the U.S. side will return to a rational and pragmatic China policy for the two countries to better develop themselves and prosper together,” Liu told reporters.
Liu said China and the U.S. should put into practice what has been agreed between Xi and Biden at their last meeting in November and properly handle sensitive issues such as Taiwan, the democratically self-governed island claimed by China.
The U.S. and Taiwan on Thursday agreed on an initial trade pact, a move likely to anger China, which sees official engagement by the island with other countries as a violation of its sovereignty.
“China is open to communication at all levels and cooperation across the fields with the United States, but only on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit,” Liu said before that trade deal was announced.
He added that the U.S. should work with China to “create favorable conditions for the future interactions between the two presidents.”
Some Biden administration critics, including Republican lawmakers, have questioned U.S. overtures to Beijing to hold high-level meetings, arguing that past decades of engagement have failed to change China’s calculus on a slate of trade, security and human rights issues.
Blinken, Raimondo, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have all expressed interest in visiting China.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, David Lawder and Michael MartinaEditing by Deepa Babington)