China and the United States must choose between "cooperation or conflict", Beijing's top diplomat told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, his final day of a trip aimed at improving severely strained ties.
Blinken and Wang Yi, China's highest-ranking foreign policy official, spoke for three hours on Monday at the ornate state guesthouse in the ancient Diaoyutai gardens, according to a State Department official.
Neither Washington nor Beijing has confirmed a meeting between Blinken and Xi, China's most powerful leader in decades, whose meeting with President Joe Biden in November in Bali raised cautious hopes for a thaw in the relationship.
But American diplomats see a meeting likely with Xi.
"The Secretary of State's trip to Beijing this time comes at a critical juncture in China-US relations," Wang told Blinken, according to a readout from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
"It is necessary to make a choice between dialogue and confrontation, cooperation or conflict," he said.
"We must reverse the downward spiral of China-US relations, push for a return to a healthy and stable track, and work together to find a correct way for China and the United States to get along," Wang added.
He also issued a warning on Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing.
In the past year, China has launched live-fire military drills twice near the island in anger over actions by top US lawmakers.
"On this issue, China has no room to compromise or concede," Wang told Blinken, according to CCTV.
"The United States must truly adhere to the One China principle confirmed in the three joint US-China communiques, respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and clearly oppose 'Taiwan independence'."
Ahead of their meeting, Blinken and Wang offered polite smiles before the cameras and exchanged pleasantries.
They then headed into a meeting with their aides, who unlike their bosses wore masks in line with Covid-19 protocols.
Tensions have soared between the world's two largest economies in recent years on issues ranging from trade to technology to Taiwan.
US officials say that they did not expect major breakthroughs from Blinken's talks but they hope to reopen regular lines of communication to prevent mishaps from escalating into conflict.
Both countries said Sunday that Qin accepted an offer to pay a return visit to Washington at a later date.
'A real conversation'
On Sunday, Blinken met for seven and a half hours with Foreign Minister Qin Gang -- longer than expected -- with the two sides agreeing to keep up communication.
The talks with Qin were "candid, substantive and constructive", State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken stressed "the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation", Miller added.
Behind closed doors, Qin told Blinken that relations between the United States and China "are at the lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations", according to CCTV.
"This does not conform to the fundamental interests of the two peoples, nor does it meet the common expectations of the international community," Qin said during the talks.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the discussions went beyond the usual talking points.
"This was a real conversation," he said.