In a small thaw in tense relations, a senior Biden administration official said in a visit to China on Monday that Washington does not seek conflict with Beijing, as the two sides sought points of potential cooperation.

Even as they traded barbs in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, there were indications that both sides wanted to dial down the temperature in the U.S.-China conflict, especially as central China suffers deadly floods.

In a meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman affirmed the importance of cooperation on a range of issues including the climate crisis, counternarcotics, North Korea and Iran, according to a readout from State Department spokesman Ned Price. It was the highest-level visit to China so far by a member of the Biden administration.

“The Deputy Secretary underscored that the United States welcomes the stiff competition between our countries but that we do not seek conflict with the PRC,” Price said, using an abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.

Sherman also expressed condolences for the lives lost in the central China floods during the past week, with the official death toll up to 69 on Monday and many still missing.

In his meeting with Sherman, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng urged the United States to lift its visa restrictions on members of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese students seeking to study in the United States, according to a social media posting by the official China Media Group. He also asked that Washington revoke its efforts to extradite Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada, and to address rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, it said.

The two sides still criticized each other, though less vociferously than during the Trump era. Sherman “reiterated concerns” about China’s unwillingness to cooperate with the World Health Organization in follow-up studies on the coronavirus pandemic’s origins, according to the U.S. Embassy. She also raised concerns about human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang and Tibet regions.

Xie said U.S.-China relations were in a “stalemate” and criticized the United States for treating China as an “imaginary enemy,” according to a Foreign Ministry readout.

“It’s not going to work if the U.S. asks for cooperation on the one hand and damages China’s interests on the other,” Xie said, according to the Paper, a Chinese news outlet.

In a media briefing ahead of Sherman’s trip, a senior Biden administration official had said the visit wasn’t meant to negotiate a specific issue but to “keep the channels of communication open.”

Sherman’s visit comes as part of a U.S. diplomatic push in Asia. This week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit India, while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. Sherman met last week with her counterparts in Japan and South Korea.

U.S.-China relations grew intensely hostile under the Trump administration, with the two countries clashing over trade and human rights and escalating sanctions on both sides. President Biden has sought to return the relationship to a calmer footing, while retaining Trump-era sanctions on Huawei and a number of other Chinese companies.

Biden has also sought to build a coalition in Asia to counter China’s growing influence, in a pivot from the Trump administration’s unilateral approach.

Washington and Beijing continue to have serious disagreements over a number of issues, including the WHO’s efforts to determine the origins of the coronavirus. Last week, Beijing announced that it would not cooperate with the WHO’s follow-up research plan. Biden has supported the WHO plan, while also ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to search for evidence of how the pandemic started.

On Friday, Beijing announced sanctions on former commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and several other Americans, retaliating against earlier U.S. sanctions against Chinese officials over the crackdown in Hong Kong.

Lyric Li and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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