US presses China to halt militarisation of South China Sea

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China wants to resolve problems with the United States through talks but it must respect China's choice of development path and interests, President Xi Jinping said on Thursday ahead of a meeting with the U.S. leader in Argentina.

Yang outranks the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

"The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests", he said.

Beijing has constructed a series of military outposts throughout the waterway, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year.

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

The talks came several weeks ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

"The diplomatic and security dialogue is a forum for a frank, open exchange of views on a full range of issues from the South China Sea to human rights", Branstad said.

On Monday, Trump said China wanted to make a deal and added: "If we can make the right deal, a deal that's fair, we'll do that". But China's defence minister, General Wei Fenghe is visiting the Pentagon to a ceremonial honour cordon today.

And a high-profile meeting could occur in the coming days, when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence travels to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea. Since July, China and the US have imposed tariffs on half the annual imports from each other, followed by heated rhetoric and sabre rattling in the South China Sea.

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asserted US rights to freedom of navigation but also said the two sides should work together on areas of common interest.

The two countries must agree to keep conflicts between them under control or else risk "destroying hopes for the new world order", the former secretary of state warned. Beijing has retaliated with tariffs on $110 million worth of US goods.

China and the USA have put tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods and Trump has threatened to set tariffs on the remainder of China's US$500 billion-plus exports to the United States if the dispute can not be resolved.

But just as he was speaking, a top advisor to Trump, Peter Navarro, vowed to press China hard on trade.

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. "Their top priority is to stabilize relations", she said.

Pompeo also reiterated USA criticism of China's "repression of religious groups", citing treatment of Buddhists in Tibet and minority Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

Calling Kissinger an old friend of the Chinese people, Xi applauded the US diplomat's contribution to bilateral relations.

"China is committed to working with the United States to achieve a no-confrontational, conflict-free, mutually respectful co-operation in which both sides win", added Yang, who heads the ruling Communist Party's foreign affairs commission and outranks Wang. Yang insisted that Chinese people have freedom of religion, and that "foreign countries have no right to interfere".

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