The United States is open to high-level talks with China on their tense relationship, a State Department official said Friday, as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman prepared for a tour of Asia.
The State Department announced that Sherman will travel starting Sunday to US allies Japan and South Korea as well as Mongolia, which has developed warm ties with the United States.
The statement issued Thursday did not mention travel to China despite earlier speculation that Sherman would go.
A State Department official, asked about a potential stop in China, said that the United States was ready to engage in a "practical, substantive and direct manner."
"We have been and will continue to explore opportunities to engage PRC officials, including at senior levels, as part of our effort to advance US interests and responsibly manage the relationship," the official said on condition of anonymity, using the acronym for the People's Republic of China.
"As in all travel abroad, we make announcements only once -- and if -- we determine that a visit has the potential to be substantive and constructive for our purposes," the official said.
In recent days, the United States has again upset China by issuing an advisory warning of business risks in Hong Kong due to Beijing's clampdown and with the Senate voting to ban products from Xinjiang over concerns on forced labor.
If she visits, Sherman would be the highest-ranking official to travel to China in the administration of President Joe Biden, which has identified the rising Asian power as the pre-eminent challenge for the United States.
John Kerry, the former secretary of state turned US climate envoy, visited Shanghai in April as he looked to cooperate on the global challenge despite friction on multiple other fronts.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, met in March in Alaska with top officials Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi in a visibly tense meeting in which the Chinese leaders berated the United States in front of the cameras.
Biden has largely backed the tough line on China of former president Donald Trump but has vowed to put a new priority on working with allies.