China says US talks 'candid' amid Taiwan differences

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have held candid talks in Bangkok aimed at keeping in contact, both sides say, with Wang stressing that "Taiwan independence" posed the biggest risk to China-US ties.

The meeting came just over two months after US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.

China and the United States had a rocky start to 2023 but met more often in the second half of the year to try to stabilise ties ahead of democratic Taiwan's presidential transition in May and a potentially caustic 2024 US election campaign.

China's struggling economy may also dampen its government's appetite for what had been more combative ties with the US amid improving Chinese relations with Russia.

Wang and Sullivan agreed to properly handle important and sensitive issues in US-China relations, China's foreign ministry said, and for Xi and Biden to "maintain regular contact to provide strategic guidance for bilateral relations ... and make good use of the current strategic communication channels".

The White House in a statement said both Wang and Sullivan recognised recent progress in resuming military-to-military communication and the importance of maintaining those channels Sullivan also "underscored the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the statement said.

Taiwan's defence ministry said on Saturday it detected 11 Chinese military planes crossing the Taiwan Strait's median line in the past 24 hours.

The ministry on Friday reported 23 Chinese air force planes operating around Taiwan, carrying out "joint combat readiness patrols" with Chinese warships ahead of high-level China-US talks in Thailand.

The White House added that "Sullivan stressed that although the United States and China are in competition, both countries need to prevent it from veering into conflict or confrontation".

In San Francisco, Xi and Biden agreed to open a presidential hotline, resume military-to-military communications and work to curb fentanyl production but remained at odds over Taiwan.

China claims the island as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

Taiwan strongly objects to China's sovereignty claims and says only the island's people can decide their future.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and has long said it does not support a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan.

It does, however, maintain unofficial relations with the self-governed island and remains its most important backer and arms supplier.

Saturday's meeting was the latest quiet engagement between Wang and Sullivan, who reports directly to Biden, having met previously away from media to try to lower the temperature.

Wang, according to a foreign ministry statement, told Sullivan the two countries should treat each other as equals and respect their core interests, rather than undermine them, and "build mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win co-operation" to establish the "correct way for China and the United States to get along".

Wang said Taiwan was China's internal affair and a recent election there "cannot change the basic fact that Taiwan is a part of China".

China criticised the United States on Thursday for causing "trouble and provocation" after the US navy sailed its first warship through the sensitive waters separating China and Taiwan since the election.

"The biggest risk to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is 'Taiwan independence' and the biggest challenge to China-US relations is also 'Taiwan independence'," Wang was quoted as saying.