Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, speaks during an Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. (Photographer: Rachel Woolf/Bloomberg)

China-U.S. Tensions Flare in Testy Pompeo Visit to Beijing

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo cited “fundamental disagreement” with China’s foreign minister during a testy exchange in Beijing that highlighted rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Pompeo’s retort came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. on Monday of escalating trade disputes, interfering on Taiwan and meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. “These actions have damaged our mutual trust, cast a shadow over China-U.S. relations, and are completely out of line with the interests of our two peoples,” Wang told his visiting American counterpart.

China-U.S. Tensions Flare in Testy Pompeo Visit to Beijing

“The issues that you characterized, we have a fundamental disagreement,” Pompeo said. “We have great concerns about actions that China has taken and I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship.”

The exchange came as Pompeo arrived in the Chinese capital during an Asia trip focused on securing a disarmament deal with North Korea and maintaining international pressure against Kim Jong Un. The visit was the latest indication of deteriorating ties between the U.S. and China, as the two sides tussle over everything from trade to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

China’s public show of displeasure also represented one of the strongest signs yet that the widening list of disputes between the U.S. and China could undermine their cooperation on North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang’s biggest international benefactor and U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that his trade war with China was leading the country to relax pressure on the regime.

Xi Snub

Unlike a similar trip in June, Chinese President Xi Jinping granted no audience to the U.S. secretary of state. When asked earlier Monday whether Xi had declined a meeting because of disagreements between the two sides, Pompeo said, “I expect they’ll also raise the issues that they’re happy with.”

While China’s foreign ministry said at a news briefing Monday that broader tensions wouldn’t undermine cooperation on North Korea, Wang told Pompeo that the issue illustrated the importance of maintaining a working relationship.

“I know that you would like to discuss the North Korea issue and other relational issues with me on this visit,” Wang said. “This speaks to the fact that two major powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council need to and should increase communication and cooperation, taking on responsibilities in international society.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert seconded the “unified” approach on North Korea, but cited “‎areas where the United States and China do not agree, including on the South China Sea and human rights,” according to a statement.

New Cold War

Rising tensions have fueled concern in Beijing and Washington that the president’s trade fight could, if left unchecked, foster a new Cold War between the two countries. In the speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused China of “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

China-U.S. Tensions Flare in Testy Pompeo Visit to Beijing

Pence also assailed China over its actions in the South China Sea, where the U.S. has deployed warships on tense missions to counter Chinese claims to territory around reclaimed rocks and reefs. Last month China refused a U.S. warship entry to Hong Kong next month, days after Washington sanctioned the Chinese military for buying Russian weapons.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing’s military actions, CNN reported Thursday, citing several unidentified U.S. defense officials.

Still, Wang’s remarks made clear that China was most concerned about recent U.S. moves to improve ties with the democratically run island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a province. A series of diplomatic understandings on Taiwan -- in which the Communist Party tolerates American weapons sales while the U.S. accepts Beijing as the capital of “one China” -- underpin more than four decades of relations between the two sides.

On Monday, Wang called on the U.S. to cease military contacts and further arms sales to the island and stop interfering with Chinese efforts to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan’s existing diplomatic partners.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.