Nov 10, 2018 05:08 PM

China-U.S. Security Talks Touch on Iran Sanctions, South China Sea

The U.S and China held security meetings in Washington D.C. Friday, bringing together top security and military officials amid continuing tensions and an ongoing trade war.

The two sides discussed key issues like the South China Sea, Taiwan, and Iranian sanctions, although the talks were also presented by both sides as a chance to lay the groundwork for a meeting of Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Argentina later this month.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Yang Jiechi, a member of China's politburo and former foreign minister, and General Wei Fenghe, China's defense minister.

This was the second U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, a forum intended for “candid discussions” between the two countries' military and defense leaders, initiated last year. The meetings, originally scheduled for October in Beijing, were delayed after relations swiftly deteriorated when the U.S. imposed sanctions on a Chinese state-owned company for buying Russian weapons, and approved sales of $330 million of military equipment to Taiwan. U.S. military patrols in the disputed South China Sea have further irritated Beijing.

The U.S. is committed to finalizing a “military-to-military crisis deconfliction and communication framework,” said Mattis, saying that the two sides had tried to find ways to lessen tensions between the two countries and reduce the risks of miscalculation. China and the U.S. will hold joint military maritime rescue and search exercises by the end of the year, Wei told journalists.

During a press conference after the talks, Pompeo said that he hoped China and the U.S. would cooperate more on helping to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and “bringing Iran’s oil export revenues to zero.”

China and seven other countries including India, Japan and South Korea received six-month exemptions from U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil that were imposed earlier in November due to Washington’s suspicions that Tehran is continuing its nuclear program with the aim of developing nuclear weapons. Yang said that “proper handling” of the Iran situation was very important.

China's policies toward the South China Sea and “Taiwan’s international space” were key U.S. concerns, said Pompeo.

The U.S. called on China to “withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands,” at the dialogue, according to an official summary, referring to islands located in the South China Sea. China has constructed facilities on its islands and reefs, but they are mostly for civilian purposes, Yang told journalists.

China and the U.S. agreed to continue to improve communication between their militaries and on issues like counterterrorism, law enforcement, and illegal narcotics, said Yang.

Earlier this year, the two countries engaged in tit-for-tat rounds of punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions dollars of products, a key source of current tensions. A trade war will only end up hurting both sides and the global economy, said Yang to journalists after the talks. Neither Pompeo nor Mattis mentioned trade issues.

“The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with China,” Pompeo said, in his concluding remarks.

Tensions between China and the U.S. have shown some signs of easing after a telephone discussion between Xi and Trump earlier this month. The leaders had “a long and very good conversation” about trade and the discussions were “moving along nicely” toward meetings at the G-20 summit, Trump tweeted.

Contact reporter Ke Baili (

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