Washington has warned Taipei and Beijing against escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait with military exercises this month. US officials had 'made it very clear' to their Taiwanese and Chinese counterparts that it was not a good idea to go ahead with their respective manoeuvres in the area just before the Hong Kong handover, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said. However, Taipei's representative in Washington seemed to counter Mr Burns' position, saying he had discussed the issue with US officials, whom he said understood Taiwan's need to hold the exercises. Mr Burns said: 'It is best to stand down in times like this and to continue activities that promote goodwill and understanding and peace and not to engage in activities that are counter-productive to those objectives. 'We have actually been encouraged by the gradual easing of tensions in the region and in the Taiwan Strait region over the past year and we hope that China and Taiwan will continue their efforts to reduce tensions between them to make the Taiwan Strait a region of peace.' Mr Burns said Washington was urging both sides to show 'restraint in military activities in sensitive areas during sensitive times'. 'I think China and Taiwan understand that the United States believes that there should be a reduction of tensions in the region, not an escalation of tensions,' he said. Jason Hu, director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, said he had been briefing US officials on the exercises, which are due to begin on June 23. 'We all fully understand the drills' purpose,' he said. In Taipei, a Defence Ministry spokesman denied the exercises were directed at China. Mr Hu also dismissed the idea that the Hong Kong handover was a dress rehearsal for Taiwan's reintegration with the mainland.