Middle East focus as US and China meet to pave way for Biden-Xi summit

WASHINGTON/BEIJING, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi begins his long-awaited trip to Washington on Thursday as the United States and China tackle deep strategic differences and pave the way for an expected summit between Presidents Joe Biden. Xi Jinping.

The Middle East war has added a new dimension to the testy relationship between the superpowers and Washington hopes Beijing can use its influence with Iran to ensure the Israel-Hamas conflict does not spill over into the wider region.

However, while both Beijing and Washington have talked about seeking areas where they can work together, Xi said on Wednesday that China is willing to cooperate on global challenges, and experts do not expect immediate progress.

The Biden administration’s priority with Beijing is to prevent intense competition between the world’s two largest economies and disagreements over issues ranging from trade to Taiwan and the South China Sea from escalating into conflict.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will welcome Wang at the State Department on Thursday, and he will also address the UN on Tuesday. He said he would work with him to prevent the Middle East conflict from spreading in the Security Council.

Policy analysts in China and the United States say both sides share an interest in preventing a wider war, and that China, as a major oil buyer, has considerable leverage over Iran.

But whether Beijing will use it remains to be seen and experts say China may instead watch from the sidelines for a while.

„The Chinese are certainly interested in preventing direct U.S.-Iranian conflict because they are major oil consumers,” said John Alderman, director of the Middle East Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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„However, the Chinese are unlikely to do any heavy lifting here. I expect them to be at the table when the Israel-Gaza conflict is resolved, but they don’t feel much need or ability to expedite a solution.”

Wang, Biden

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said Beijing exerting its influence on Iran is „the US’s serious and practical expectation of China in the Middle East situation”.

However Xi added: „The US position on Iran is unacceptable to China and vice versa. Mutual compromise on this issue is likely to be very limited and small.”

Washington has emphasized the importance of China’s ability to influence Iran. During a whirlwind Middle East trip last week, Blinken spoke to Wang by phone and asked him to use Beijing’s influence to prevent the conflict from escalating.

China has called for restraint and a ceasefire in response to Israel’s bombing of Gaza in response to an attack by Hamas that Israel says has killed 1,400 people. The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said on Wednesday that 6,500 people had been killed in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. Reuters could not independently verify the number of casualties on either side.

„China is working tirelessly to stop hostilities and restore peace. We are maintaining close contact with the relevant parties,” China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said on Tuesday.

Wang’s visit to Washington comes after several high-level US officials, including Blinken, have visited Beijing in the past several months.

The senior Chinese diplomat is expected to meet with Biden’s national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, on Friday. He is expected to speak with Biden during his visit to the White House, according to two U.S. officials, although it is unclear how substantial their interaction will be.

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Road to the Biden-XI meeting

Analysts expect discussions to focus on preparations for an expected meeting between Biden and Xi on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco from November 11 to 17. An in-person meeting since the summit in Bali last November.

Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said: „There are a lot of things to be ironed out and finalized. (Wang) will only be here for the talks — big deliveries will be reserved for announcements by top leaders.”

On Wednesday, Xi said it will matter to the world whether Washington and Beijing can establish a „correct” way to manage their differences.

The two sides go into APEC from different economic perspectives, with economic policy analysts saying the US has weathered global conditions somewhat better than China since the COVID-19 pandemic.

US and Chinese officials held a virtual meeting on Monday to discuss macroeconomic developments, with the US saying it was „productive and substantial” and China „profound, transparent and constructive”.

US officials said Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, which Beijing has accused of „destabilizing and dangerous actions” against rival territorial claimants, will be on the agenda.

Re-establishing military-to-military ties with China remains a top priority for the US to avoid an unintended conflict, they said.

China’s Global Times tabloid highlighted the contradictions in the relationship.

„Although Sino-US relations have seen a rapid recovery in various fields,” the US policy of trying to „contain” China has not changed, accusing Washington of „two-pronged tactics” in which it „frequently takes various opportunities. To humiliate China and create friction.”

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Laurie Chen in Beijing; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt Editing by Josie Gao

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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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-Pagehatt Fellowship Program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. He holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in European Union Studies.

Larry Chen is China correspondent in Reuters’ Beijing bureau, covering politics and public affairs. Before joining Reuters, he spent six years reporting on China at Agence France-Presse and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. She speaks Mandarin fluently.

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