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Obama aide visits China after South China Sea ruling

July 25, 2016
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photographers during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, July 25, 2016. (How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for photographers during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Monday, July 25, 2016. (How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — China and the U.S. should deal with their differences candidly, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, as ties were set to be tested after a tribunal invalidated Beijing’s vast claims in the South China Sea.

Rice is the highest-level White House official to visit China since the July 12 ruling by an international tribunal delivered a victory to the Philippines, a U.S. ally, in its dispute with China.

Meeting Xi, Rice said the U.S. and China’s interdependence meant that China’s success was also in America’s interest, and said the two nations have demonstrated that they can work together on major global issues such as climate change.

“At the same time, we are confronting our differences with candor and clarity and we believe that clarity produces predictability, and predictability produces stability,” Rice said.

Xi told Rice that he was committed to building a good bilateral relationship on “the basis of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”

The South China Sea received no mention in any of the opening remarks Rice and Chinese leaders made in front of reporters on Monday. Officials repeatedly acknowledged the importance of managing their disagreements.

Beijing has reacted angrily to the ruling by the Hague-based tribunal, decrying the panel as unfair and accusing Washington of interfering in the region. The U.S., whose navy patrols the waters, has called on China to abide by the ruling while also urging calm.

A statement issued later by the White House said that Rice discussed with China’s top diplomat State Councilor Yang Jiechi U.S. views on human rights, maritime issues, and the treatment of U.S. businesses and non-governmental organizations operating in China.

It also said Rice met with Central Politics and Law Commission Secretary Meng Jianzhu and underscored the importance of abiding by cyber commitments reached by President Barack Obama and Xi when they met in Washington last September — when the two leaders agreed that neither government would support commercial cyber-theft.

Rice also met with top general Fan Changlong, who told her the sides still faced “obstacles and challenges.”

“If we don’t properly handle these factors, it will very likely disturb and undermine this steady momentum of our military-to-military relationship,” said Fan, who serves as vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

Rice pointed to the increased communication between the sides that she said has reduced the possibility of conflict, even while their militaries operate in closer proximity than ever before.

Despite such progress, “we have challenges and differences to discuss and to manage,” Rice said.

Rice conveyed a similar message when she and Yang met. Yang said that the sides had stable relations, but that there were still differences that had to be carefully managed.

China’s island development in the South China Sea has inflamed regional tensions, including with nations that have competing claims to the land formations.

Beijing’s officials see an American plot behind the arbitration case, considering that as just another sign of what China perceives as a relentless U.S. campaign to contain its rise to prominence. The United States says it takes no position on South China Sea sovereignty claims, but insists that freedom of navigation and overflight in the region be maintained.

Rice’s visit is primarily aimed at preparing for U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to China in September to attend the leaders’ summit of the Group of 20 major economies.

Rice will also visit Shanghai and meet with business executives to discuss challenges that U.S. businesses face while operating in China, according to a statement from the U.S. National Security Council.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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