US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang engaged in productive and open discussions during their meeting in Beijing, according to the US Department of State. The talks, which took place on Sunday, marked the highest-level visit by a US official to China in almost five years and aimed to stabilise the strained relationship between the two superpowers.
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State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated that Secretary Blinken highlighted the significance of diplomacy and the need for continuous communication on all issues to minimise the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations. Chinese state media reported that Qin assured Blinken of China’s commitment to establishing a stable, predictable, and constructive relationship with the United States. Additionally, Qin expressed China’s concerns regarding core interests, particularly emphasising the Taiwan issue as the most significant risk in Sino-US relations.
Diplomatic thaw or chilling standoff?
Prior to the talks, US officials had limited expectations for any significant breakthroughs on the extensive list of disputes between the two largest global economies. These disputes range from trade and US attempts to curb China’s semiconductor industry to the status of Taiwan and Beijing’s human rights record. Miller noted that Secretary Blinken raised various concerns while also exploring possibilities for cooperation on shared transnational issues where the interests of both countries align.
Secretary Blinken extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Qin to visit Washington, DC, to continue the discussions. Both parties agreed to schedule a reciprocal visit at a mutually convenient time. It is important to note that Secretary Blinken’s two-day visit took place against the backdrop of chilly bilateral relations and followed the discovery of a suspected spy balloon above the US in February, which led to the postponement of the original planned trip.
China and the United States find themselves in a state of disagreement across multiple areas such as trade, technology, and regional security. Both countries have expressed cautious optimism about improving communication between them. Brendon O’Connor, a representative from the University of Sydney, believes that the US has a significant amount of work to do in order to mend its relationship with China, including the necessity of establishing more channels of communication.
While acknowledging the importance of diplomacy, O’Connor does not expect the visit by Antony Blinken to lead to a dramatic thawing of relations between the two nations. Despite this, the visit itself is seen as a positive step.
Antony Blinken, the most senior American official to visit China since President Joe Biden assumed office, is anticipated to engage in discussions with high-ranking Chinese officials on Monday, potentially including Chinese leader Xi Jinping. These higher-level contacts aim to further facilitate dialogue between the two countries.
Finding common ground in building bridges
As Antony Blinken prepared to travel to China, President Joe Biden downplayed the balloon incident, suggesting that it was unintentional and more embarrassing than deliberate. Biden expressed his hope to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping again, building on their previous lengthy meeting in November during a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali. During that meeting, Biden and Xi agreed on Blinken’s visit to China.
Biden further expressed his desire to engage in dialogue with Xi in the coming months, discussing both the legitimate differences between the two countries and areas where cooperation is possible. It is anticipated that both leaders will attend the next G20 summit scheduled for September in New Delhi. Additionally, Xi has received an invitation to travel to San Francisco in November when the United States hosts leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping. These events present opportunities for further interaction and discussions between the leaders of the two nations.
Tensions reaching boiling point
The recent phone call between Antony Blinken and Qin Gang highlighted the heightened tensions between the United States and China. Beijing is seeking assurances from the US that it will not interfere in its domestic affairs or cross the red lines concerning its core interests, particularly Taiwan. Reports are made by emphasising that while expectations for major breakthroughs during Blinken’s visit are low, the significance of the visit should not be overlooked, especially considering the concerns of China’s neighbours regarding the potential escalation of tensions.
The overall relationship between Beijing and Washington has deteriorated across various fronts, raising concerns about the possibility of future military clashes over Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Disagreements exist on multiple issues, including trade, US efforts to restrict China’s semiconductor industry, and China’s human rights record.
China’s reluctance to engage in regular military-to-military talks with the US has been particularly worrisome for its neighbouring countries, despite repeated attempts by the US to initiate dialogue.
Before departing for Beijing, Blinken outlined three main objectives for his trip: establishing crisis management mechanisms, advancing the interests of the US and its allies, and directly addressing related concerns, as well as exploring areas of potential cooperation. Blinken emphasized the importance of communication in order to prevent competition from escalating into conflict.
During his journey across the Pacific, Blinken also spoke with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, reaffirming the close ties with US allies.
Additionally, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, traveled to Tokyo for three-way meetings involving Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
In the past few months, the United States has successfully negotiated troop deployment agreements in southern Japan and the northern Philippines, strategically positioning their forces near Taiwan. The visit by Secretary Blinken signifies a significant event as it is the first time a high-ranking US diplomat has traveled to Beijing since his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, made a stop there in 2018. Pompeo’s tenure saw an escalation of confrontational policies towards China under the Trump administration.