China has agreed at a high-level meeting with the United States to work together on improving a relationship that has hit rock bottom, but despite the “constructive” talks, both sides stuck to their guns over key disputes, with the Chinese doubling down on a national security law for Hong Kong. At their meeting in Hawaii, the first icebreaker since ties sank to a historic low over the Covid-19 pandemic and other political issues, state leader Yang Jiechi told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Beijing was determined to push ahead with the legislation in Hong Kong, regardless of Washington’s stiff opposition. At the same time, Vice-Premier Liu He separately sought to ease international concerns over the impact of the impending law, assuring investors that Beijing would continue to support the city as a global financial centre and stick to the “one country, two systems” principle it is governed by. We urge the US side to respect China’s counterterrorism and deradicalisation efforts, stop applying double standards … Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Further controversy was sparked on Thursday by a change in the wording of the new law being drafted by China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). Along with acts of secession, subversion of state power and terrorist activities, the law will now criminalise “collusion with foreign and external forces” instead of “foreign and external interference in Hong Kong affairs”. “Yang Jiechi pointed out that Hong Kong affairs, including the establishment of a legal system and enforcement mechanisms to uphold national security in Hong Kong, are purely China’s internal affairs. China is resolutely determined in advancing the national security legislation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said. Yang, one of China’s senior leaders and a member of the powerful Politburo, objected to US interference in Hong Kong affairs, as well as a statement by G7 foreign ministers urging Beijing not to impose the new law. “China urges the US side to respect China’s sovereignty, view the legislation objectively and fairly, and stop meddling in Hong Kong’s internal affairs in any form,” Zhao said. Yang also told Pompeo that Taiwan was an inalienable part of China, stressing that the “one China” principle was the political foundation of Sino-American relations, and objected to US President Donald Trump signing into law a new bill authorising sanctions against Chinese officials over the mass internment of Muslim ethnic minority groups in the Xinjiang region. Amid the current situation, that China and the US sat together to have constructive dialogue, regardless of any outcome, is a proactive move worthy of recognition Taoran Notes “We urge the US side to respect China’s counterterrorism and deradicalisation efforts, stop applying double standards on counterterrorism issues, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Zhao said. While remaining firm on these issues, Yang also had a conciliatory message for Pompeo. “Yang Jiechi pointed out that China and the US benefit from cooperation and suffer from confrontation. Cooperation is the only correct choice for both sides,” Zhao said. Collusion added to national security law being drafted by top lawmakers in Beijing “China is committed to working with the US to develop a relationship featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, while firmly safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests.” The state-run Xinhua news agency said in a separate report: “Both sides have fully expressed their stance and believe this is a constructive dialogue. Both sides agreed to take action to seriously implement the consensus reached by their leaders, and to continue communication.” For its part, the US State Department said Pompeo had “stressed important American interests and the need for full reciprocal dealings between the two nations across commercial, security and diplomatic interactions”. Pompeo “also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks”, the department said in a statement. After months of often-belligerent accusations and counteraccusations that have sparked fears of open confrontation between the two powers, the Yang-Pompeo meeting, which lasted for around seven hours, reflected their willingness to step back from the brink, analysts said. Xi Jinping flattered Donald Trump over grilled steak, Bolton says in memoir Cooperation was “the only correct choice”, according to Taoran Notes, a social media account linked to the Chinese government and affiliated with the official Economic Daily newspaper, which is used by Beijing to manage trade talk expectations. “Amid the current situation, that China and the US sat together to have constructive dialogue, regardless of any outcome, is a proactive move worthy of recognition,” it said. Denny Roy, senior fellow at the Hawaii-based East-West Centre, said the meeting signalled willingness on both sides to reset the relationship, and that Trump wanted significant progress on the trade deal ahead of the November presidential election. “Pompeo and Yang would not be the officials to hammer out a trade deal, but rather to explore ways to generally improve the atmospherics,” he said. “More bilateral discussions are likely before the election, not necessarily by the same officials or the same format.” Roy noted that the US State Department’s readout was “extremely brief”, possibly reflecting an awareness of former US national security adviser John Bolton’s allegation that Trump had solicited help from Chinese President Xi Jinping to win the election. What are the latest concessions in US-China ties ahead of Hawaii talks? “Perhaps the White House’s thinking is to downplay the [Hawaii] meeting as much as possible, even make Americans forget about it, rather than have them interpret the results through the lens suggested by Bolton,” he said. Lu Xiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed that Trump’s re-election campaign was the key factor. “The China issue is not a defining factor in the election, though the topic carries a certain weight. A relatively stable China-US relationship would offer some help to his presidential campaign, which would enable Trump to brag he is the only one capable of managing relations with China,” Lu said.