Senior U.S. officials and their Chinese counterparts held "candid and productive" talks in Beijing on Monday, the State Department said, as Washington seeks to build on high-level diplomatic engagements between the two countries despite escalated tensions in recent weeks.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby characterized the meeting involving Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, as "making progress in terms of opening up additional lines of communication."
The talks came after U.S. officials admitted last week that William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and one of President Joe Biden's closest confidants, visited China in May.
Still, military-to-military communication channels between the United States and China remain closed. There have also been no clear signs of improvement in bilateral ties since they sunk to new lows earlier this year after Washington shot down what it described as a Chinese spy balloon traveling over its territory.
The latest meeting in the Chinese capital covered topics including U.S. concern over the stability of the Taiwan Strait and human rights issues, and the officials made clear that Washington would "compete vigorously and stand up for" its interests and values, according to the State Department.
Kritenbrink met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu and Yang Tao, director general of North American affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the department said.
The diplomat was joined by Sarah Beran, National Security Council senior director for China and Taiwan issues, and U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, it said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the two sides had a "candid, constructive and fruitful communication" for improving Sino-U.S. relations and the proper management and control of differences.
China clarified its "solemn position on Taiwan" and other major issues of principle, and both parties agreed to continue to communicate, the ministry said.
Beijing regards the self-ruled democratic island as a renegade province to be unified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Kirby told a press briefing in Washington that the U.S. officials used the opportunity to express concern about the Chinese military's recent "unsafe and unprofessional" intercepts.
The Indo-Pacific Command said last week that a Chinese fighter jet conducted an "unnecessarily aggressive maneuver" in late May during an intercept of a U.S. military surveillance plane in international airspace over the South China Sea.
On the weekend, it accused a Chinese warship of crossing the path of a U.S. vessel carrying out a joint drill with the Canadian navy in the Taiwan Strait.
"Particularly when times are tense, particularly when there's a risk of miscalculation...that's the time that you want to be able to have a conversation," Kirby said.
"Now this visit was very much in keeping with our larger, longer efforts to keep the lines of communication with (China) open, and we'll see where this goes after that."
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the Chinese military's actions, saying they were "completely professional, lawful, justified and safe" while criticizing the United States for "sending warships and military aircraft halfway around the world to China's doorsteps in a provocative way."
Beijing "firmly opposes acts that undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of freedom of navigation and overflight," Wang said, adding Washington's "hegemonic practice is the root cause of security risks on the sea and in the air."