On the final day of a crucial two-day trip to Beijing intended to defuse escalating tensions between the two countries, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The encounter at the Great Hall of the People was crucial to the success of the trip and was expected, but neither party made a confirmation until an hour before it was to take place, when a State Department official made the announcement.
A rejection by the Chinese leader would have represented a significant blow to the endeavour to preserve and restore senior-level communications. In past encounters, Blinken and senior Chinese officials expressed a desire to communicate but showed no sign of bending from their staunch positions.
Blinken is the first secretary of state to travel to China in five years and the highest-ranking American official to do so since President Joe Biden took office. Senior American and Chinese officials are anticipated to travel soon after him, possibly including a meeting between Xi and Biden in the near future.
The meeting with Xi came after Blinken had discussions with other top Chinese officials, during which the two sides expressed a desire to communicate but showed little readiness to budge from their rigid stances, which have caused tensions to spike.
Earlier on Monday, Blinken had a three-hour meeting with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, according to a U.S. official.
Blinken’s visit “coincides with a critical juncture in China-U.S. relations, and it is necessary to make a choice between dialogue or confrontation, cooperation or conflict,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a statement. It also blamed the “U.S. side’s erroneous perception of China, leading to incorrect policies towards China” for the current “low point” in relations.
The report claimed that the U.S. had a duty to stop “the spiralling decline of China-U.S. relations to push it back to a healthy and stable track” and that Wang had “demanded that the U.S. stop hyping up the “China threat theory,” lift illegal unilateral sanctions against China, abandon suppression of China’s technological development, and refrain from arbitrary interference in China’s internal affairs.”
Despite Blinken’s visit to China, he and other American officials had downplayed the likelihood of any major progress being made on the most difficult problems affecting the world’s two largest economies.
Instead, senior officials have emphasised how crucial it is for the two nations to build and maintain improved communication channels.
According to the State Department, Blinken “underscored the importance of responsibly managing the competition between the PRC and the United States through open channels of communication to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”
Following their nearly six-hour meeting on Sunday, Blinken and Qin Gang, the foreign minister of China, announced that high-level negotiations would continue.
The most contentious disagreements between them, though, showed no evidence of progress.
However, Beijing made it apparent that “the China-U.S. relationship is at the lowest point since its establishment.” Although both sides claimed that Qin had accepted Blinken’s offer to visit Washington, D.C. U.S. government authorities generally concur with this opinion.
Blinken’s trip to China was delayed after the shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon over the United States in February. Before departing for Beijing, Blinken said that Biden and Xi had promised to improve communication “exactly so that we can make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible to avoid potential misunderstandings and miscommunications.”
Additionally, Biden stated over the weekend that he hoped to meet with Xi in the upcoming months to discuss the several issues that separate them.
There are several issues on this lengthy list, including commerce with Taiwan, the state of human rights in China and Hong Kong, Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea, and Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
Blinken also demanded that the Chinese release American nationals who were jailed and take action to stop the production and export of the fentanyl precursors that are causing the opioid problem in the US during his discussions on Sunday.
In a meeting with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates on Friday, Xi gave a hint that he would be willing to ease tensions by saying that cooperation between the US and China might “benefit our two countries.”
There have been a few high-level interactions since Blinken’s trip was postponed in February. While China’s commerce minister visited the US in May, CIA Director William Burns visited China. Additionally, Wang Yi, a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser, met with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, in Vienna in May.
However, those have been interspersed with angry outbursts from both sides over the Taiwan Strait, their larger plans for the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to denounce Russia for its war against Ukraine, and American accusations that Beijing is trying to improve its global surveillance capabilities, including in Cuba.
Additionally, earlier this month, in an indication of ongoing unhappiness, China’s defence minister turned down Lloyd Austin’s request for a meeting outside of a security conference in Singapore.