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Top US diplomat to China: Not ‘optimistic’ about future relations

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Don’t expect Washington’s relationship with Beijing to improve anytime soon, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Friday morning.

“I don’t feel optimistic about the future of U.S.-China relations. I feel that we need to see how things develop,” Burns said during a Brookings Institution event.

The blunt remark came exactly a month after President Joe Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco. It was an attempt to stabilize the fraught relationship between the two nations, which have seen a deepening mistrust that has pushed relations to their lowest point in a half-century.

The pair agreed on a number of confidence-building measures, including a resumption of high-level military-to-military communications. But Biden soon after called his Chinese counterpart a “dictator” for the second time this year — angering Beijing.

Burns called the meeting in California “productive,” explaining that both countries have so far followed through with their commitments.

“I’m careful about this, maybe realistic — hopeful, if you will,” he said. “But hopeful is different than being optimistic.”

Burns also blasted Beijing for the recent uptick in harassment by Chinese Coast Guard forces of Philippine vessels in areas of the South China Sea that are within Manila’s territorial waters.

Later in the event, the ambassador called for an easing of relations between the U.S., China and others in the region.

“The people of China are not our enemy,” he said. “We do want to live in peace with China. No person in their right mind should want this relationship to end up in conflict or war.”

Phelim Kine contributed to this report.

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