Xi, Trump G20 meeting will be of great significance - China

US Defence Secretary James Mattis shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asean security summit in Singapore on Oct 18

US Defence Secretary James Mattis shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asean security summit in Singapore on Oct 18

In a further sign of improving ties, Chinese Politburo Member Yang Jiechi and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe are set to hold a security and diplomatic dialogue with USA officials in Washington on Friday.

China and the United States have been embroiled in a trade war for several months, placing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods on both sides.

Mattis repeated the position that "the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows".

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 8, 2018.

The talks come several weeks before Trump is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Argentina - a potential occasion for big announcements on resolving disputes.

"The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with China", Pompeo told a joint news conference.

Even as the United States and China confront hard challenges, "cooperation remains essential on many issues", he said, citing efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

On Monday, Trump said China wanted to make a deal and added: "If we can make the right deal, a deal that's fair, we'll do that".

China said last month the two sides had initially agreed "in principle" to hold the second round of diplomatic security talks in October but they were postponed at Washington's request amid rising tensions over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Pompeo took aim at China over its continued building of military installations on artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where China insists it has sovereignty despite competing claims from some smaller neighbors.

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Yang outranks the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

However, Yang and Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe spoke of the need to improve cooperation, including between the US and Chinese militaries, to ease the risk of conflict as the two powers jockey for pre-eminence in the Asia-Pacific.

"China is committed to working with the USA to achieve a no-confrontational, conflict-free, mutually respectful co-operation in which both sides win", added Yang, who heads the ruling Communist Party's foreign affairs commission and outranks Wang.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asserted US rights to freedom of navigation but also said the two sides should work together on areas of common interest.

Mattis added his own caution, saying that "competition does not mean hostility, nor does it lead to conflict. And let's not forget how our two sides have successfully navigated through previous rough patches in our economic and trade relations", he said.

It may be recalled that President Trump had slapped $250 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods, accusing Beijing of nefarious trading practices, prompting retaliatory measures.

Mr Trump has vowed to inflict more tariffs that would hit nearly all Beijing's U.S. exports if China retaliates further.

Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center think tank, said Beijing is uncertain about what exactly Trump wants out of a trade deal, but hopes that with US midterm elections out of the way, the mercurial American president may be more inclined to reach a compromise.

Trump has made reaching a denuclearization agreement with North Korea a top priority since his landmark summit in June with the totalitarian state's leader Kim Jong Un. While the Trump administration has generally been soft-spoken on human rights, at least with allies, Pompeo denounced China's "repression" of religious and minority groups including the Uighur community, citing a United Nations report that up to one million members of the mostly Muslim ethnic group have been rounded up in detention camps.

After President Donald Trump's barbed comments against China in the runup to this week's congressional elections, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turned conciliatory in tone if not always in substance.

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