TOKYO, June 18 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrives in Beijing on Sunday, the first U.S. diplomat to visit China in five years, amid frosty bilateral ties and dim prospects for any progress on a long list. Conflicts between the world’s two largest economies.
Blinken, who postponed his February trip after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over US airspace, is set to become the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
During his June 18-19 visit, he is expected to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and potential President Xi Jinping, and will work to establish open and lasting communication channels to ensure strategic competition between the two countries. There is no spin in collision.
It will be a journey closely followed by the rest of the world, as any escalation between superpowers could have global ramifications for everything from financial markets to trade routes and practices and global supply chains.
„There is a recognition on both sides,” a senior State Department official told reporters during a refueling stop in Tokyo en route to Beijing.
„We are at a critical juncture in the relationship where it is important to reduce the risk of miscalculation or, as our Chinese friends often say, stop the downward spiral in the relationship,” the official said.
Relations between the countries have soured across the board, raising concerns that China could one day clash militarily with the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which it claims as its own. They also clash over issues such as trade, US efforts to curb China’s semiconductor industry and Beijing’s human rights record.
Of particular concern to China’s neighbors, the US has been reluctant to engage in regular military-to-military talks with Washington, despite repeated attempts.
Speaking at a news conference Friday before departing for Beijing, Blinken said the trip has three main objectives: to set mechanisms for crisis management, advance U.S. and allied interests and address related concerns directly, and explore areas of potential cooperation.
„If we want to make sure, if we want to make sure that the competition we have with China doesn’t turn into a conflict, communication is where you start,” Blinken said. He said he would also raise the issue of US citizens detained in China on charges that Washington considers politically motivated.
But U.S. officials played down expectations of much progress in a brief call earlier in the week to preview the trip. Blinken’s main goal will be „honest, direct and constructive” discussions, officials said, but progress is unlikely on any major issues, including the flow of fentanyl precursors and Americans detained in China.
But Blinken’s visit is expected 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. This could set the stage for meetings between Xi and Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.
Biden and Xi’s Bali meeting last November briefly allayed fears of a new Cold War, but after a Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States in February, leading Blinken to postpone a planned trip to Beijing that month, high-level communications have been rare.
The U.S. official also said trying to get China’s cooperation in stemming the flow of fentanyl precursors would be an important item on the agenda. US officials have said that the Chinese side is reluctant to cooperate in this matter.
Statement by Humeya Pamuk; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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