Blinken holds high-stakes talks in China amid escalating tensions

Blinken holds high-stakes talks in China amid escalating tensions


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicked off talks with senior Chinese officials in Beijing on Sunday, beginning a landmark visit aimed at following months of tension between the world’s two largest economies , to guide the relationship between the two countries back on track.

Blinken is the first secretary of state to visit China in five years and the highest-ranking U.S. official to undertake such a mission since President Biden took office in early 2021.

Observers will be watching closely for a possible meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The top U.S. diplomat has often met China’s top leaders face-to-face in previous trips, but relations between the two countries are at their lowest point in decades.

Officials from both governments said expectations were low for the visit, with a senior State Department official telling reporters earlier this week that he did not expect “a long list of deliverables.”

Instead, U.S. officials described the trip as an effort to restore normal channels of communication with China to avoid a conflict between the world’s two powers.

“What we’re doing on this trip is really advancing what President Biden and President Xi agreed to in Bali late last year, which is to have ongoing, regular lines of communication at the top of our government, and that’s how we can ensure our communication Be as clear as possible so that misunderstandings and miscommunications are avoided as much as possible,” Blinken said before leaving on Friday.

According to a senior State Department official, Blinken’s main goal in China is to re-establish communication channels, especially direct military-to-military communications between Washington and Beijing.

His entourage arrived in Beijing on Sunday with a packed first day, beginning with a meeting with China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, who took office six months ago after finishing his tenure as Beijing’s ambassador to Washington.

Blinken and Qin shook hands in front of reporters at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on Sunday afternoon, their first face-to-face meeting in their current positions.

The two officials exchanged brief greetings in English and briefly about the U.S. delegation’s flight before entering a brightly lit conference room with large windows overlooking a lotus pond and hangings on the walls A large traditional Chinese ink painting.

During the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, Blinken invited Qin to visit Washington, and the invitation was accepted, State Department spokesman Matt Miller said in a readout of the meeting.

“Secretary of State invited Foreign Minister Qin to Washington to continue discussions, and they agreed to schedule an exchange of visits at a time that is convenient for both parties,” Miller said, adding that Blinken emphasized “the importance of diplomacy and maintaining all channels of communication” to reduce misunderstanding or miscalculation The question of risk. ”

Blinken also expressed U.S. concerns about many aspects and opportunities for cooperation with China where interests align, Miller said.

U.S. officials attending the meeting included Assistant Secretary of State Krittenbrink for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to China Burns.

On the Chinese side, Qin was accompanied by other foreign ministry officials, including Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying.

Overall, Sunday’s meeting was “direct” and made progress on “many fronts,” with both sides showing a “desire to de-escalate tensions,” a senior State Department official told reporters. But “deep differences” between the U.S. and China were also evident during the meeting, the official added.

“Nobody preconceived that we’re going to solve all the difficult problems in one or two meetings,” the official added, noting that it was important to start a conversation.

One thing both sides agree on is the need to expand flights between the two countries, U.S. officials said. But they haven’t shared any agreement with reporters on that topic or any other substantive subject.

The State Department told the travel media that after the afternoon meeting, Blinken continued with Qin for a working dinner.

On Monday, Blinken is scheduled to meet with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and hold a roundtable with American exchange students and business leaders.

The Biden administration’s relationship with Beijing is one of its most complex and important, and has been strained for months, including two military-related incidents in recent weeks.

Biden and Xi met for the first time as presidents during the Group of Seven summit in Indonesia last November.

The visit to Blinken, which was announced after the meeting between Biden and Xi, was originally scheduled for February and was seen as a key follow-up engagement. However, it was delayed after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted transiting the United States, which Blinken said at the time “created the conditions to defeat the purpose of the trip”.

However, Krittenbrink said on Wednesday that both the U.S. and China had “come to the shared conclusion that now is the right time to engage at this level,” but that “we will not do so with the intention of some kind of breakthrough or transformation.” Go to Beijing the way we get along with each other.”

“I think the fact that China agreed to this meeting reflects that Beijing is very confident in its position,” Patricia King, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told a media briefing on Friday.

Leah Millis/Reuters

On June 18, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Beijing, China.

“Both commented on this trip, the fact that this visit is not going to fundamentally change the U.S.-China relationship or resolve many of the disputes between the two countries, and I think they want to not set their expectations too high or appear too eager to engage with each other. Engagement. I don’t think either side wants to appear to accept or acquiesce in the other’s behavior,” she said.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Biden acknowledged “reasonable differences” with China but insisted he was open to discussing “areas where we can get along.”

Ahead of his visit, Blinken said he intended to raise “our genuine concerns on a range of issues” in talks with senior Chinese officials. These issues include the fentanyl crisis, Taiwan and cross-strait issues, the war in Ukraine, and China’s detention of U.S. citizens, including Li Kai, Mark Swiedan, and David Lin.

On the fentanyl crisis, the senior State Department official said Blinken’s specific focus was on stemming the flow of precursor chemicals from China to laboratories in South America where the deadly opioid is produced.

Blinken also said Friday that he intends to “explore the potential for cooperation on transnational challenges — global economic stability, illicit synthetic drugs, climate, global health — where our national interests intersect and where the rest of the world expects us to cooperate. ”

His visit follows a series of talks between U.S. and Chinese officials in recent weeks.

In May, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Vienna, followed by talks in Washington between business officials from the two countries. China’s new ambassador has also arrived in the US, vowing to strengthen ties amid “serious difficulties and challenges”.

“High-level diplomatic contacts between China and the United States have become more frequent, and these show that the two sides are gradually getting back on track,” said Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based expert on Chinese foreign policy.

However, high-level contacts between the two militaries are still frozen, and it remains to be seen whether Blinken’s visit can achieve a breakthrough. China rejected an offer by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to hold a formal meeting in Singapore with his U.S.-sanctioned counterpart, Li Shangfu, last month, although the two did have a brief conversation.

The U.S. will also host the APEC leaders’ summit in November, which will be attended by Chinese leader Xi Jinping regardless of U.S.-China relations, Shen said.

But whether Xi’s trip will include an official visit to the United States — and the level of that visit — depends on “what both sides can do beforehand,” Shen said.

Biden told reporters on Saturday that he believed Blinken’s trip to China could ease tensions and said he hoped to meet with Xi again “in the coming months.”

Shen said China was most concerned about two things: “handling differences over Taiwan and preventing decoupling of supply chains, especially on advanced chips.”

“It is hoped that Blinken’s visit will improve relations in form and substance. But the hope may not become a reality, and relations may become worse after the visit,” he added. “We prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Blinken would not predict whether his visit would pave the way for continued high-level exchanges between the United States and China.

“As for what happens next, let’s see how the visit goes,” the top U.S. diplomat said Friday, citing comments from Singapore’s foreign minister. “It’s an important step, but in a sense it’s not enough because there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

This story and headline have been updated with more information.

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