By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – Cooperation with China is "essential" to addressing some of the greatest problems in the international arena, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday following bilateral security talks with Chinese officials.
That is despite glaring differences between Washington and Beijing on a bevy of subjects, including China's militarization of the South China Sea, the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Iranian oil importers, and Washington's unwavering insistence on the North Korea's full denuclearization prior to the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions.
Addressing reporters following talks with Defense Secretary James Mattis and their Chinese counterparts, Pompeo said China's cooperation in the continued implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Pyongyang "will help achieve meaningful breakthroughs on this important denuclearization issue."
He further pointed to U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil imports, which the U.S. gave China a six-month waiver for earlier this month along with seven other countries, saying that Beijing's assistance in ending its imports of Iranian oil is critical to a U.S. campaign of pressure on Iran.
China along with the U.S. brokered an accord with Tehran in 2015 that lifted international sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a robust sanctions regime on Iran's nuclear program.
U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally exited Washington from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May, despite calls from all the other signatories, including China, for the U.S. to stay in the pact.
Washington has since re-imposed all of the sanctions it lifted as part of the agreement, hoping to scuttle it while the remaining parties seek to ensure its continued implementation.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi urged the importance of the accord's continued implementation in order to contribute to the "peace and stability of the region."
Pompeo further continued to press China to halt its militarization of the disputed South China Sea, which has included the development of artificial islands that have been transformed into military installations.
"We pressed China to live up to its past commitments in this area," he said.
The U.S. has been carrying out what it calls "freedom of operation" activities to ensure its and other countries access to the strategic waterway, regularly flying and sailing vessels, which China insists are provocative actions.
Yang continued to make the point following Friday's talks, saying China has asked Washington to immediately stop its operations around the territories China claims, "and stop actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests."
The U.S. insists it is abiding by international law in carrying out the activities, and Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S. is seeking a "peaceful resolution of all disputes in the South China Sea."
Pompeo said he raised the issue of religious freedom in China, specifically pointing to the "800,000 to possibly millions of Muslims that have been denied their freedoms" in China's Xinjiang province.