Blinken heads to Beijing in hopes of allaying fears of a US-China rift

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will travel to Beijing this weekend in hopes of advancing a long list of disputes between the United States and China. But analysts say he and his Chinese counterparts can achieve at least one thing — show that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is not about to fall off the rails.

Blinken will hold meetings in China on June 18-19 and may meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, sources said. He will be the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since Biden took office in January 2021.

At a pre-trip briefing Wednesday, U.S. officials said they did not expect the trip to lead to a turning point in how the U.S. and China treat each other. Following a tense evening phone call with Blinken on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang told the United States to stop meddling in China’s affairs.

China’s Foreign Ministry continued on Friday, warning that it „cannot engage in vicious competition” and that the US „should not imagine dealing with China from a position of strength.”

„This is not so-called responsible competition, but very irresponsible hegemonic behavior, which will only push China and the US into conflict,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

The visit, which could set the stage for other diplomatic engagements later in the year, including a meeting between Xi and US President Joe Biden, shows that the two rivals have not given up on diplomacy.

„Both sides want to show the rest of the world that they are managing their relationship responsibly,” said Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program.

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„For China, the most important audience is the Global South. For the US, it’s partners and allies. So, both Washington and Beijing have some leverage.”

Bilateral relations have soured altogether, raising concerns that their rivalry over Taiwan, which China claims as its own, could escalate into conflict. China has been conducting regular military exercises near the island, including on Sunday.

„In the face of the situation in the Taiwan Strait, let alone provoking conflicts, we will not escalate conflicts, but we will firmly protect national sovereignty,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told senior naval officers on Friday.

The US and China are at odds over issues ranging from trade and microchips to human rights.

Of particular concern to China’s neighbors is the United States’ reluctance to allow regular military-to-military talks between Beijing and Washington, despite repeated attempts. U.S. officials said Wednesday that setting up crisis communication channels is a priority to reduce risk.

In Brussels on Friday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed hope for talks with his Chinese counterpart after being snubbed by Beijing during an event in Singapore earlier this month.

On Wednesday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stressed the importance of de-escalating tensions.

„More cooperation between Beijing and Washington, more dialogue and anything that reduces tensions is welcome,” he told reporters.

While Blinken’s main goal is „honest, direct and constructive” discussions, U.S. officials say progress is unlikely on any key issues, including the flow of fentanyl precursors and Americans detained in China.

Aing Biton-XI meeting

A meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali last November briefly allayed fears of a new Cold War, but following the controversy over an alleged Chinese spy balloon in February, high-level contact between the countries has been rare.

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Beijing, frustrated by the Biden administration’s weaponization of economic policies, has sought to expand ties with countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Xi recently welcomed several European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, and made a diplomatic push to court others, including US ally Saudi Arabia.

US officials expect Blingen’s visit to pave the way for more bilateral meetings in the coming months, including possible visits by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

„Beijing agreed to the visit because it seems to block many things, such as working-level talks and visits by other Cabinet members,” said Yun Sun, director of the Stimson Center’s China Program. Tank in Washington.

Those meetings could lead to a meeting between the leaders of the G20 in India in September and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco in November.

„She wants to come to San Francisco,” Sun said. „(Besides) APEC, he also wants a bilateral relationship with Biden. That means laying the groundwork right now.”

Report of Humera Pamuk; Additional reporting by David Brunstrom and Phil Stewart and Larry Chen in Washington, Martin Pollard in Beijing, Michael Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Dan Durfee and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Humera cotton

Thomson Reuters

Humeyra Pamuk is a senior foreign policy correspondent in Washington, DC. He covers the US State Department and travels regularly with the US Secretary of State. During his 20 years with Reuters, he held posts in London, Dubai, Cairo and Turkey, covering everything from the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war to multiple Turkish elections and the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast. In 2017, he won the Knight-Backhatt Fellowship Program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. He holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in European Union Studies.

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