US airs concerns to China about 'dangerous and unlawful' South China Sea actions

FILE PHOTO: Philippines resupply mission in the South China Sea

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and China held "candid" talks on maritime issues on Friday, including on the contested South China Sea, and the U.S. side underscored its concerns about "dangerous and unlawful" Chinese actions there, the U.S. State Department said.

The talks took place in Beijing between the department's China Coordinator Mark Lambert and China's Director-General for Boundary and Ocean Affairs Hong Liang, the State Department said in a statement.

The meeting follows recent high-level diplomacy ahead of an expected meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the mid November APEC summit in San Francisco.

The U.S. statement said the talks were part of "efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the U.S.-China relationship" and that the U.S. side reiterated the need to resume military-military channels, "to avoid miscommunication and miscalculation."

It described the talks as "substantive, constructive, and candid" and said they covered a range of maritime issues, including the South China Sea and East China Sea, which are contested by China and other nations.

"The United States underscored concerns with the PRC's dangerous and unlawful actions in the South China Sea," it said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

Such actions included China's obstruction of an Oct. 22 Philippine resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal and its "unsafe" intercept of a U.S. aircraft on Oct. 24, the statement said.

China said on Monday after a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington that the U.S. and China would hold "consultations on arms control and non-proliferation" in the coming days, as well as separate talks on maritime affairs and other issues.

A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Arms Control Mallory Stewart would host Sun Xiaobo, head of the arms-control department at China's Foreign Ministry, at the State Department next week.

"We have continually called on the PRC to substantively engage on arms control issues and reducing strategic risk," the spokesperson said, a reference to U.S. concerns about China's nuclear weapons build-up and frustration that Beijing has shown little interest in discussing this.

A flurry of diplomatic engagements in recent months, largely at Washington's request, has sought to salvage what were rapidly deteriorating ties between the two countries following the U.S. downing in February of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

While Biden and Xi are expected to meet this month, China has yet to confirm this and a senior Biden administration official said on Tuesday important details have yet to be hammered out.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler and David Gregorio)