On Monday, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be on his way to India, his deputy, Wendy Sherman, will be in China representing the interests of the US and its allies during talks with Beijing's top diplomats delivering a tough US message that it will act to defend its interests, according to senior administration officials.
"The deputy secretary is going to represent the US interests and values and those of our allies and partners. We're going to do it honestly and directly," a senior official said on Saturday.
"We're redefining this relationship... not going to be afraid to take steps when we see that our interests have to be defended," the official asserted.
Senior US officials briefed reporters ahead of Sherman's scheduled meetings with Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin on Monday during a trip to Asia that has taken her to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.
Blinken, who will be on his way to India on Monday, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday when China is expected to figure in their talks.
But before the US-India meetings, China's President Xi Jin Ping moved the border row between China and India up a notch by going to an area in China close to the border with India.
And sending a message directed at India, China's news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying in Lhasa, "China will strengthen infrastructure construction along the border, and encourages people of various minorities to set their roots at the border, to defend the territory and build the homeland."
The meetings in Tianjin comes amid rising tensions between China and US over a wide range of issues, most recently over cybercrimes and the clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
A senior official said, "I anticipate very clearly that she (Sherman) will be not only representing the United States, but she will be standing up and advocating her positions that are shared around the world."
The official said that while Sherman was in Japan -- where she met Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi and Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo -- and in South Korea, she underscored Washington's "commitment to standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners to address pressing global challenges, advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, and uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order."
After Sherman's visit to Japan, Blinken spoke to Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu on Thursday and "emphasised the importance of the US-Japan Alliance to peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.
The senior officials, who spoke on condition of not being named, outlined a strategy of building a front of allies and like-minded countries to effectively face up to China.
"A lot of our effort is really aimed at shaping the international environment around China, on building resilience among allies and partners to Beijing's coercive and... and actions that are at odds with our collective interests and values and ensuring, as we said, that we can present an affirmative vision," the officials said.
"We know we're stronger when we work with our allies. We know this makes us more effective when dealing with Beijing," the official said, while taking care to add, "We aren't seeking an anti-China coalition in our work with allies and partners, but rather trying to work together in a multilateral fashion to uphold the international rules-based order," the official said.
European countries have joined the US in imposing sanctions on the Chinese over the treatment of Uighars in Xinjiang province and joined the US along with other allies and the NATO last week to call out China on hacking.
The officials said that the united response to China has shown effects.
"These multilateral actions have really gotten Beijing's attention, and. in some cases, I think has actually caused Beijing in many ways to take steps that actually are potentially counter to its own interests," an official said.
The confrontations set off rounds of retaliatory sanctions, although the all the sides have been careful to avoid the upper echelons of government or act broadly against the countries given their mutual economic dependence.
After the US imposed sanctions on seven Chinese officials over Hong Kong, China farcically retaliated against Wilbur Ross, who was former President Trump's Commerce Secretary -- and already under Democratic Party attacks over census-related matters -- and five others, carefully avoiding any Biden officials.
The interlocking of economies that globalisation has brought limits the actions either side can take while many international issues and crises require cooperation.
Sherman is "going to underscore that we do not want that stiff and sustained competition to veer into conflict. This is why the US wants to ensure that there are guard rails and parameters in place to responsibly manage the relationship," an official said.
"There are important global challenges where the US and China both have an interest and where we think it's important to exchange views and explore potential areas for cooperation. So we anticipate that this will also be a focus of these meetings," the official said.
"Sherman is going to make clear while we welcome stiff and sustained competition with the PRC (Peoples Republic of China), everyone needs to play by the same rules and on the level -- on a level playing field," the official added.
Sherman's visit is the first high-level meeting between US and Chinese officials after Blinken and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party's head of foreign affairs, met in March in Alaska.
That meeting deteriorated into an angry showdown before the media with both sides trading accusations and proclaiming defiance.
Biden has yet to meet China's President Xi Jinping although he has held a summit with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats had made Russia out to be the biggest threat to the US because of their perception that Moscow had helped Trump with the 2016 election, but once in office reality set in for Biden who has continued Trump's confrontation with Beijing and even turned up its level.