The US and Chinese presidents yesterday spoke in a scheduled call hours after relations came under renewed pressure as a US warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea.
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) discussed efforts to denuclearize North Korea and improve US-Chinese trade relations, although the ship’s passage was not mentioned in a White House readout of the conversation.
Relations between the two nations had been warmer since Trump and Xi met in April, but Washington has taken a series of actions that have infuriated Beijing in past days.
The latest move to anger China came on Sunday, when the USS Stethem destroyer sailed less than 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from Triton Island (Jhongjian Island, 中建島) in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), a US official told reporters.
The Paracels are claimed by Taiwan, China and Vietnam.
The move prompted China to deploy military vessels and fighter jets, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said in a statement late on Sunday, calling the US operation a “serious political and military provocation.”
The spokesman called on Washington to “immediately stop” operations that violate Chinese sovereignty and threaten the country’s security.
It was the second operation of its kind carried out by the US since Trump took office.
Last week, China lashed out at Washington after Trump authorized a US$1.3 billion arms sale to Taiwan and the US Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering North Korean cash.
Washington also vexed Beijing by voicing concern about freedom in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and placing China on a list of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders.
Hours after the naval operation, Trump held separate telephone calls with Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focused on the regional tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.
In his call with Xi, “President Trump raised the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” the White House said.
“Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” it said.
Trump, who berated Beijing over trade during the US election campaign, also “reiterated his determination to seek more balanced trade relations with America’s trading partners,” it said.
It said the two leaders discussed “a range of other regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest” and indicated the two would meet at the G20 summit in Germany this week.
According to Chinese broadcaster CCTV, Xi told Trump that Sino-US relations “have achieved important results” since the two met at Trump’s Florida resort in April.
However, Xi was also quoted as saying, relations “have been affected by some negative factors.”
Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said it was possible that during the call Xi would agree to take some of the steps Trump has demanded to pressure Pyongyang.
“I think that Xi is keen to keep Sino-US relations on an even keel,” Glaser told reporters. “Of course, he can’t appear to be making concessions or taking steps in response to US pressure.”
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