By Ryan Woo and Michael Martina
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – A senior US diplomat held candid and productive talks with Chinese officials on Monday, the State Department said, despite some criticism that his visit to China coincided with the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 in Beijing.
The visit to Beijing by Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, followed last week’s China snub by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had requested a formal meeting with the its Chinese counterpart.
Kritenbrink, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and National Security Council official Sarah Beran met with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials Ma Zhaoxu and Yang Tao, the State Department said in a statement.
“The two sides have had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to keep lines of communication open and build on the recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” the statement said, adding that they exchanged views on the bilateral relationship, cross-strait issues and other issues.
“US officials have made it clear that the United States will compete vigorously and defend US interests and values,” he said.
Kritenbrink’s June 4 arrival coincided with the 34th anniversary of Chinese troops’ 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, who rights groups say killed hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters.
Zhou Fengsuo, an exiled former Tiananmen student leader who is now a US citizen, told RockedBuzz via Reuters he was “outraged” and saw the timing of the visit as a “betrayal”.
“This definitely threw salt into our wounds. It could only be a strategic move by the CCP (Communist Party of China) to choose such a date to meet, and the State Department did it without mentioning Tiananmen,” Zhou said.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby defended the timing of the meeting, saying critics “are just making a lot of things out of thin air.”
“This has been a long-planned trip, and this is how the plans have worked,” Kirby said at a White House briefing on Monday.
President Joe Biden’s administration has pushed to step up engagement with China as ties between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated over issues ranging from democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own, to military activity in the South China Sea.
Critics have questioned US overtures to China, arguing that recent decades of engagement have failed to change Beijing’s behavior.
During a security summit in Singapore over the weekend, Austin said Beijing’s reluctance to talk had undermined efforts to keep peace in the region.
Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been subject to US sanctions since 2018 for buying fighter jets and equipment from Russia, had declined an invitation to meet Austin at the summit.
China’s state-backed newspaper, the Global Times, also criticized Kritenbrink’s visit, writing late Sunday evening that he was more motivated by Washington’s goal to present itself as the party seeking communication.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Michael Martina in Washington and Ryan Woo in Beijing Editing by Richard Chang, Don Durfee and Matthew Lewis)