FILE PHOTO: Chinese staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before the opening session of Sino-U.S. trade negotiations in Beijing, Feb. 14, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is maintaining “normal communication” with the United States on trade, the Chinese government said on Thursday, one of the few areas the world’s two largest economies have refrained from confronting each other over this year.

Washington and Beijing signed a so-called Phase 1 trade deal in January 2020, before the widespread outbreak of COVID-19. The pact calls for China to increase its purchases of U.S. exports by $200 billion over two years.

Economists say Beijing is behind in meeting that target, partly due to the pandemic. The pact is set to expire by the end of 2021.

“We’ve always stressed that both sides should work together, create the atmosphere and conditions to push for the implementation of the deal,” Gao Feng, spokesman for China’s commerce ministry, told reporters when asked about U.S.-China trade talks.

“Trade and economic cooperation between the two sides are in the interest of both countries and their people,” he said.

While trade ties between the two countries have calmed since the signing of the pact, bilateral relations have been tense due to disagreement over issues ranging from the origins of the coronavirus to China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday charged China with bullying its Southeast Asian neighbours, the second time in two days she has attacked Beijing during a regional visit, as Washington tries to rally regional partners to take on China’s growing economic and military influence.

One bright spot is closer cooperation in tackling the threat of climate change.

U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry is expected to travel to China in September, sources told Reuters this week, which would be his second visit to China this year.

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