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International relations

No. 2 US diplomat Sherman may visit China if talks pan out

Washington and Beijing have had little high-level contact since stormy Alaska meeting

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Japan, South Korea and Mongolia next week. The itinerary did not mention a stop in China that had been anticipated in foreign policy circles. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States is in talks with China over U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's potential visit to China at the end of her upcoming Asia trip if all arrangements come together, a senior State Department official said on Friday.

The State Department on Thursday announced that Sherman will visit Japan, South Korea and Mongolia next week but did not mention a stop in China that had been anticipated in foreign policy circles and reported in some media.

The official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said there was room in Sherman's schedule to go to China and that if the additional stop would be added, it would come at the end of her Asia trip.

"For each of these (trips), we work very hard with each country to establish a set of arrangements....We're in the midst of those arrangements with the PRC," the official said.

It was a "challenging moment" in the U.S. relationship with China, the official said, but added that Washington was always open to engagement with Beijing if it was "substantive and consequential". The official also accused China of using its vaccines in a "very political and transactional" way.

The United States and China have had little high-level, face-to-face contact since a first senior diplomatic meeting under the Biden administration in March in Alaska, where the Chinese side expressed anger at U.S. sanctions announced just ahead of the talks.

Before that meeting, Washington had taken a flurry of actions, including a move to begin revoking Chinese telecoms licenses, subpoenas to multiple Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns, and updated sanctions over Hong Kong.

Sherman's visit, if it happens, would also be coming days after fresh sanctions from Washington, which on Friday blacklisted seven Chinese officials over Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong in a bid to hold China accountable for what it calls an erosion of rule of law in the former British colony.

Asked how the trust level between the United States and China would be described, the official said that was not what the bilateral relationship was about at the moment.

"It's complicated. So I don't think trust is really appropriate in this moment. It's about what work we can do together and how we will manage a very complicated relationship," the official said. 

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