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US, China hold 'frank' talks on hacking, maritime row

Update: June, 23/2015 - 10:45

WASHINGTON — Top US and Chinese officials were set to join "candid" talks today on the "complicated but consequential" ties between the world's two leading economies, with maritime disputes and cyber hacking high on the agenda.

About 400 Chinese officials have converged on Washington for the high-level annual talks being hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

"The United States is firmly committed to improving its relationship with China," said State Department spokesman John Kirby, about the seventh round of dialogue.

"While our countries disagree on many points, we recognise that there are many areas for mutually beneficial co-operation," he told reporters, adding there was "no problem (that) can't be better addressed with US-China co-operative efforts". The two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue kicks off properly today with Kerry and China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

It will be Kerry's first public appearance back at work since he broke his right leg in a cycling accident on May 31.

But Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken led initial closed-door talks on Monday on the toughest dossier – security – with China's Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.

So far, the discussions have been "candid and to the point" in dealing with the "most sensitive issues in the relationship," a senior State Department official said.

The security talks serve as the highest-level platform for military and civilian discussions seeking to manage their complex ties.

"The relationship between the United States and China is extremely broad.

It's also extremely complicated. But it's very consequential," official said.

While there are important areas of co-operation such as the Iran nuclear talks, the situation in Afghanistan and the need to tackle climate change, there are also major differences.

"The talks are all the more important for the need to address these issues head-on, not try to paper them over, not try to agree to disagree, but to try to actually talk about them and see if we can... try to narrow the differences," the official said.

The talks allowed the US to "break through stovepipes in the government...

and deliver messages to people outside of our normal channels of communication," the official added.

The world's two leading economies remain at odds over China's claims to much of the South China Sea and Washington has repeatedly urged Beijing to stop building artificial islands in the key waterway.

But China said last month it will project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air.

Ties have also strained over US accusations of cyber espionage. — AFP

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