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US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will hold a private meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the coming days, as the two men resume back-channel communications that have been crucial to stabilizing relations.
Sullivan will meet Wang in an undisclosed country in Southeast Asia, their first meeting since President Joe Biden met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November, according to two people familiar with the plan.
The White House declined to comment. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
US and Chinese officials last year resumed high-level contacts aimed at easing tensions after disagreements over issues including Taiwan's status and a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States plunged relations to their lowest levels since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979. .
But in contrast to the meetings between US Cabinet ministers and their Chinese counterparts, which were previously announced, Sullivan and Wang held two secret meetings – in Vienna and Malta – that were key in paving the way for Biden and Xi to meet in November.
US officials say the Sullivan-Wang channel was effective because the meetings took place privately without media attention.
The upcoming meeting comes as Washington pressures Beijing to urge Tehran to rein in Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have attacked ships in the Red Sea in recent months.
Sullivan recently raised the issue in Washington with Liu Jianzhao, head of the Communist Party's International Department, who some believe will succeed Wang as foreign minister.
Wang has been China's top foreign policy official and in the less influential role of foreign minister since July after China removed Chen Gang as foreign minister.
The Sullivan-Wang meeting comes one month after Lai Ching-tei won Taiwan's presidential election. China views Lai, who will be inaugurated in May, as a dangerous separatist.
Taiwan remains one of the most controversial issues between the two countries. The United States has raised concerns about assertive Chinese military activity across the country. It is also watching closely to see how China handles the situation as Lai prepares for his inauguration.
China, which considers Taiwan a sovereign territory, accuses the United States of interfering in its internal affairs through its approach to the island, which includes the sale of defensive weapons.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have shown signs of stability since Biden and Xi met. In one example, Admiral John Aquilino, head of US Indo-Pacific Command, said last month that China had not conducted any serious interceptions of US aircraft since the summit.
In October, the Pentagon accused China of conducting 180 “risky and coercive” interceptions — where Chinese fighter jets fly dangerously close to American aircraft — over the past two years. It said that China had conducted 100 other operations against aircraft flown by US allies.
China criticizes the United States for flying reconnaissance planes near its coast, even though spy planes operate in international airspace.
The United States and China are expected to hold more high-level meetings this year. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is scheduled to travel to China after her first visit to Beijing in her position last year. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also discussing a potential trip but there are no specific details at this point, people familiar with the situation said.
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