© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US and Chinese flags are seen in this illustration taken, January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

BEIJING (Reuters) -The US ambassador and a State Department official candid and productive talks on Monday with Chinese officials and made it clear that Washington would stand up for its interests, the State Department said.

The visit to Beijing by Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, followed China’s snub last week of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had sought a proper meeting with his Chinese counterpart.

Kritenbrink, US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and National Security Council official Sarah Beran met with Chinese foreign ministry officials Ma Zhaoxu and Yang Tao, the State Department said in a statement.

“The two sides had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” the statement said.

“The two sides exchanged views on the bilateral relationship, cross-Strait issues, channels of communication, and other matters. US officials made it clear that the United States would vigorously compete and stand up for US interests and values.”

On the eve of Kritenbrink’s visit, a Chinese state-backed newspaper criticized his trip as being motivated more by Washington’s goal to portray itself as the side seeking communication.

Citing Chinese experts, the Global Times wrote late on Sunday that the United States has been trying to create a responsible image by delivering a “goodwill message” that it has been seeking communication with China, and shifting the blame to Beijing for the lack of communication or refusal to communicate.

US-China relations have sunk to new lows since Secretary of State Antony Blinken scrapped a planned trip to China in February after Washington said a Chinese spy balloon flew through US airspace.

Tensions worsened as both sides clashed over matters ranging from democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own, to military activities in the South China Sea.

At a security summit in Singapore over the weekend, Austin said Beijing’s reluctance to talk undermined efforts to maintain peace in the region.

China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been under US sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia, had declined an invitation to meet Austin at the summit.

Some experts doubt whether the US can inject positive energy into bilateral relations before the 2024 US presidential election, the Global Times said.

“The US has been seeking dialogue while continuing to be provocative,” it reported, quoting an expert at a Chinese state think tank. “We haven’t seen any positive statements from the US concerning the core interests or bilateral relations.”

As for Kritenbrink’s visit, he is not expected to give “any breakthrough performance,” and his trip should only be seen as an engagement at the working level, the newspaper said.