Obama aide visits China after South China Sea ruling

BEIJING (AP) — U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice held talks with Chinese officials Monday in the highest-level visit by a White House official since an international tribunal issued a ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The tribunal’s July 12 ruling delivered a victory to the Philippines, a U.S. ally, but angered China and appears set to heighten regional tensions. The U.S., whose navy patrols the waters, has called on China to abide by the ruling while also urging calm.

The topic was not raised in opening remarks in front of reporters at Rice’s meeting with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

On Monday, Rice told Yang that the U.S. and China have been cooperating more closely on global issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and the Ebola epidemic. She acknowledged that the sides also faced other “global issues and challenges.”

“To the extent that we are able to surface those challenges in candor and openness, I’m confident that we will be able to work on them as we have many others in the past,” Rice said.

Yang said that the sides had stable relations, but that there were still differences that had to be carefully managed.

Rice met later with top general Fan Changlong, who told her the sides still faced “obstacles and challenges.”

“If we don’t properly handle these factors, it will very likely disturb and undermine this steady momentum of our military-to-military relationship,” said Fan, who serves as vice chairman of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

Rice pointed to the increased communication between the sides that she said has reduced the possibility of conflict, even while their militaries operate in closer proximity than ever before.

Despite such progress, “we have challenges and differences to discuss and to manage,” Rice said.

Rice’s visit is also aimed at preparing for U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to China in September to attend the leaders’ summit of the Group of 20 major economies.

Rice will also visit Shanghai and meet with business executives to discuss challenges that U.S. businesses face while operating in China, according to a statement from the U.S. National Security Council.

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