Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday as the United States and China sought to extricate relations from a deep freeze that has sparked global concerns over the risk growing conflict between them.
The meeting between the two officials, which took place at the Great Hall of the People, the large building on the west side of Tiananmen Square where Xi often receives heads of state, sent a signal, at least for the moment, that the two nations do not want their relationship to be defined by open hostility, and that they realize the enormous stakes of their rivalry and their diplomatic efforts.
Earlier in the day, Blinken met with senior Chinese foreign policy official Wang Yi, who said the two countries had a responsibility to the world to reverse the downward spiral in their relations, according to an official Chinese reading. three hour meeting. But Mr. Wang took a harsh tone in blaming Washington for the tensions.
The State Department summary took a measured approach, saying Mr. Blinken and Mr. Wang had a “frank and productive discussion” and that Mr. Blinken stressed that the two powers must manage their rivalry responsibly.” through open channels of communication to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict.
Blinken is the first US secretary of state to visit Beijing since 2018. Efforts to establish regular high-level diplomacy come as bilateral relations are at their lowest level in decades. Tensions soared in February when the Pentagon announced that a Chinese surveillance balloon was drifting across the continental United States – prompting Mr Blinken to cancel an earlier planned trip to Beijing – then ordered the planes to American fighters to shoot him down.
Relations were further strained in February when Mr. Blinken confronted Mr. Wang on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to tell him that Washington believed China was planning to provide lethal support to Russia for its war in Ukraine. . China reacted by freezing some important diplomatic exchanges and intensifying anti-American rhetoric.
In recent weeks, the two countries have sought to restore high-level contacts to better manage tensions that have escalated in recent years. Officials on both sides said the two days of diplomacy in Beijing would ideally lead to a series of visits to the Chinese capital by other senior US officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo , and John Kerry. , the president’s special envoy on climate issues.
US officials say it is important to maintain regular high-level dialogue so that the two governments can speak to each other quickly in any crisis that may arise, especially as their military increasingly come into close contact with the with each other in the seas and in the air. China and other parts of Asia.
On Monday, Wang, the top foreign policy official, said the United States should cooperate with Beijing instead of “putting forward” the “China threat theory,” according to the official Chinese reading. He said Washington must lift sanctions against China and stop suppressing the country’s technological development. He accused the United States of “recklessly interfering in China’s internal affairs” over issues such as Taiwan, the de facto independent island claimed by China and which the United States supplies with arms.
No issue angers Beijing more than Washington’s growing support for Taiwan. Beijing has also sought to push back against Washington’s efforts to restrict its access to advanced semiconductor chips and manufacturing equipment, as well as deepen defense ties with regional allies including Japan, South Korea, China, and China. Australia and the Philippines.
The American reading of the meeting with Mr. Wang said Mr. Blinken had insisted that his government would continue to raise concerns with China, but he also said that the two officials “discussed the possibilities of ‘exploring cooperation on common transnational challenges’. US officials say climate change, global economic instability and fentanyl production are examples of these challenges.
On Sunday, Mr. Blinken met with Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister, for five and a half hours, and they had a two-hour dinner. The talks were “frank, substantive, and constructive,” according to the State Department’s written summary.
State Department officials said the two governments agreed to convene task forces and diplomats soon on a range of issues, including increased access to each country for journalists, scholars and students. US officials also said they and their Chinese counterparts had agreed to expand direct commercial flights between the two countries.
The two days of meetings could halt the deterioration of ties for now, although analysts say it will take a lot longer for the two sides to overcome the mistrust that hangs over the relationship.
The hope is that Mr. Blinken’s visit will help spur the two governments to “shape a principled framework for the management of U.S.-China relations, to limit competition within acceptable bounds and create more space for coordinated efforts where U.S. and Chinese interests overlap.” said Jessica Chen Weiss, a political scientist at Cornell University who recently advised the State Department on China policy.
China has pushed back against attempts by the Biden administration to establish so-called safeguards to prevent potential accidents in disputed areas like the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea from spiraling out of control. Analysts say some Chinese officials view any perception by Americans that the Chinese government and its military can be unpredictable as in itself a useful deterrent. It is believed that this perception could cause US officials to reconsider the activities of their military in the waters and skies around China.
Analysts said China may have been drawn to meeting Mr. Blinken for a number of reasons. Pressure may mount on Beijing to stabilize relations due to the deteriorating Chinese economy. Other countries have also implored China and the United States to break their cycle of hostility. Mr Xi may also have wanted to stabilize the relationship so that he would be received as a global statesman if he chooses to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group leaders’ summit in San Francisco in November. .
“China has spent the last few months blaming the United States for everything that is wrong with the relationship and inside China more broadly. Now Chinese leaders must carve out political space to pivot to more direct communication,” said Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who served as China director on the National Security Council under President Obama.
“Beijing sees it in its interest to communicate directly to manage stress in the relationship,” he added, “and to build an on-ramp for President Xi to meet President Biden at the autumn”.