BEIJING: Top officials from China and the US are due to hold talks in Switzerland amid heightened tensions over the Chinese army conducting a record number of air drills close to Taiwan, a self-ruled island which Beijing views as a breakaway province.
Tensions with China are at their worst in 40 years, Taiwan's defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng has said, warning of the risk of an accidental strike between the two.
Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political bureau of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), will meet with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Zurich, Switzerland, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Wednesday.
Yang, also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC, will meet with Sullivan "according to the consensus reached by Chinese and US heads-of-state on September 10 in their phone call and as agreed upon by China and the United States," Hua said.
"They will exchange views on China-US relations and relevant issues," Hua was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.
They were expected to discuss among others the People's Liberation Army (PLA) flying at least 150 warplanes into the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) of Taiwan since the start of China's National Day holiday on Friday, during both days and nights, official media reports here said.
The US Department of State Department voiced "concern" over the air exercises, saying the drills are provocative.
In response to the statement, Hua said Taiwan is part of China, and the US has no right to make irresponsible comments on the Taiwan question.
For its part, China has been criticising the US over the sale of arms to Taiwan under the Washington's Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must help Taiwan defend itself.
China claims the estranged islands of Taiwan as part of it and President Xi Jinping has vowed to integrate it with the mainland.
"I've spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree .We'll abide by the Taiwan agreement. We made it clear that I don't think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement, US President Joe Biden said, referring to his recent phone talks with Xi.
Analysts suggest that despite the heightened tensions, relations between China and Taiwan have not deteriorated to levels last seen in 1996 when China tried to disrupt presidential elections with missile tests and the US dispatched aircraft carriers to the region to dissuade them.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's Defence Minister Chiu said on Wednesday that China could be capable of mounting a "full-scale" invasion of Taiwan by 2025.
Citing China's large-scale air drills, he said, "with regards to staging an attack on Taiwan, they currently have the ability. But [China] has to pay the price," CNN reported.
By 2025, that price will be lower - and China will be able to mount a "full-scale" invasion, he said.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state.
China, however, views Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunified with the mainland, even by force.
Chiu noted that Taiwan has not made any moves to provoke an attack in response to the Chinese air incursions.
"We will make preparations militarily. I think our military is like this -- if we need to fight, we will be on the front lines," he said.
Taiwan's military submitted a report to lawmakers, saying China's anti-intervention and blockade capabilities around the Taiwan Strait will become mature by 2025, Taiwan's official Central News Agency (CNA) reported.
Referring to Yang-Sullivan talks, China's state-run Global Times said the dialogue is taking place half a month after the long telephone conversation between President Xi and his American counterpart Biden.
The release of Huawei's CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was held in Canada over a bank fraud case involving the US, broke the ice of the decade-low of China-US relations.
She was released on September 25 following Xi-Biden phone talks.
After Meng's release, two Canadians - Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor - who were arrested in China in December 2018 in tit-for-tat retaliation were also released by Beijing.
After this, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai released a positive signal with a frank conversation with China on different areas to reduce the trade frictions, the Global Times report said.
Referring to the US-China talks, Chinese experts said nearly 10 months after Biden took office, it appears that the US is planning to put an end to its reckless and unrealistic strategy of dealing with China from the position of strength and the bilateral ties are about to enter into a pragmatic, strategic stalemate stage with concrete cooperation.
They noted that the running-in period would not be very smooth as the Biden administration had shown an uncomfortable and unwise adjustment in the past eight months, the Global Times report said.
"But as what Chinese President Xi had stressed in the phone call getting the [China-US] relations right is not optional, but something we must do and must do well, the world is expecting to see how the meeting between Yang and Sullivan would get the relationship right, it said.
It will be the first face-to-face meeting between Yang and Sullivan since their exchanges in Alaska in March with tough and direct words.
But observers believe that moment will not be repeated this time, the report said.