US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing early Sunday on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to try to calm the eruption of US-China tensions that have left many around the world on edge.
Blinken was due to begin two days of talks with senior Chinese officials in the afternoon. He is the highest-ranking US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office and the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years.
The trip comes after he postponed plans to visit in February on a Chinese spy balloon that was shot down after drifting over the United States, further stoking tensions between DC and Beijing.
Still, the prospects for a meaningful breakthrough on the thorniest issues facing the world’s two largest economies are slim, as ties have already grown increasingly strained in recent years.
Animosity and recriminations have steadily intensified over a series of disagreements that have implications for global security and stability.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning as part of a high-stakes diplomatic mission to try to calm the explosion of US-China tensions
Blinken was due to begin two days of talks with senior Chinese officials in the afternoon. He is the highest-ranking US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office.
Blinken plans to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sunday, senior diplomat Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping on Monday, according to US officials.
Biden and Xi agreed to Blinken’s trip early in a meeting last year in Bali. It happened during the day in February, but was delayed by the diplomatic and political uproar caused by the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon flying across the United States.
The list of disagreements and potential points of conflict is long: ranging from trade with Taiwan, human rights conditions in China to Hong Kong, as well as Chinese military assertion in the South China Sea to war. from Russia to Ukraine.
U.S. officials said before Blinken left Washington on Friday that he would raise each of them, though neither side showed any intention of backtracking.
Shortly before leaving, Blinken stressed the importance for the United States and China to establish and maintain better lines of communication. The United States wants to ensure “that the competition we have with China does not escalate into conflict” due to avoidable misunderstandings, he told reporters.
Biden and Xi had pledged to improve communications “precisely so that we can ensure that we communicate as clearly as possible to avoid potential misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Blinken said Friday.
Xi hinted at a possible desire to reduce tensions, saying in a meeting with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates on Friday that the United States and China can cooperate to “benefit both of our countries.”
“I believe that the foundation of China-US relations lies with the people,” Xi told Gates. “In the current global situation, we can carry out various activities that benefit both our countries, the people of our countries, and the entire human race.”
In February, Blinken canceled plans for a visit to China at the last minute, after a Chinese spy balloon flew across the United States and was shot down by an F-22 Raptor (above)
US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns (left) and Chinese Foreign Ministry official Yang Tao greet Blinken on Sunday upon his arrival in Beijing
Blinken exchanged greetings with Burns and Yang as he became the highest-ranking US official to visit China since Biden took office
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) walks after arriving in Beijing, China on Sunday
Biden told reporters at the White House on Saturday that he “hopes that over the next few months I will meet with Xi again and talk about the legitimate differences that we have, but also about how … to get along.” Chances could arise at a September Group of 20 leaders meeting in New Delhi and at the November Asia-Pacific economic cooperation summit in San Francisco that the United States is hosting.
Since the cancellation of Blinken’s trip in February, there have been high profile engagements. CIA chief William Burns visited China in May, while China’s commerce minister visited the United States. And Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Yi in Vienna in May.
But these were punctuated by outbursts of angry rhetoric from both sides over the Taiwan Strait, their broader intentions in the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war on Ukraine. and US allegations from Washington that Beijing is trying to boost its global surveillance capabilities, including in Cuba.
And, earlier this month, China’s defense minister turned down a request from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore, a sign of lingering discontent.
Austin said Friday he was confident he and his Chinese counterpart would meet “at some point, but we’re not there yet.”
Underscoring the situation, China dismissed a report by a US security firm, which blamed China-linked hackers for attacks on hundreds of state agencies, schools and other targets around the world. , as “wacky and unprofessional”.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson repeated accusations that Washington is carrying out hacking attacks and complained that the cybersecurity industry rarely reports on them.
View of the motorcade carrying US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after his arrival in Beijing
Blinken arrives at a Beijing hotel on Sunday ahead of high-level diplomatic talks
Blinken plans to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (left) on Sunday and senior diplomat Wang Yi (right) on Monday
On Friday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping meets with Bill Gates. A meeting between Blinken and Xi is possible, but not certain, during this visit, US officials said
This followed a similar retort earlier in the week when China said Qin had, in a phone call with Blinken, urged the United States to respect “China’s core concerns”, such as the issue. autonomy for Taiwan, and to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs”. and stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition.
Meanwhile, the national security advisers of the United States, Japan and the Philippines held their first joint talks on Friday and agreed to strengthen their defense cooperation, in part to counter growing influence and ambitions. from China.
This coincides with the Biden administration signing a deal with Australia and Britain to supply the first nuclear-powered submarines, with China moving quickly to expand its diplomatic presence, particularly in the United States. Indian Ocean and Pacific Island nations, where it has opened or plans to open at least five new embassies over the next year.
The deal is part of an 18-month-old nuclear partnership, which stands for AUKUS – for Australia, the UK and the US.
Speaking ahead of Blinken’s departure, two US officials downplayed hopes of major progress and stressed the trip was aimed at restoring a sense of calm and normalcy to high-level contacts.
“We come to Beijing with a realistic and confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition as responsibly as possible,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific.
Kurt Campbell, the top Asia expert on the National Security Council, said “intense competition requires intense diplomacy if we are to manage tensions.” It’s the only way to dispel misperceptions, report, communicate and work together where and when our interests align.