- By Anthony Zurcher
- Traveling with the US Secretary of State
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to China on Sunday came nearly five months after the two countries’ relations were severely fractured because of a hot air balloon spying on China.
His initial trip was abruptly canceled because the balloon, which China said was monitoring the weather, drifted over the US mainland before being destroyed by a US military plane.
Blinken’s visit includes meetings with top Chinese foreign policy officials but there is no word yet on whether he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, who appeared. with Microsoft founder Bill Gates in Beijing on Friday.
The two global superpowers have a long list of issues that concern them, including high-level disagreements as well as potential areas of cooperation.
Here are three key areas that could be at the top of the agenda.
First and foremost, Mr. Blinken’s visit is to re-establish diplomatic interactions of any kind.
Last month, the original ice was broken when senior US officials met in Vienna, Austria.
But Mr Blinken is the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China, and it is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Beijing since October 2018.
Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said in a press conference ahead of the trip, now is a good time to talk again because that does its own thing. reduce the risk of conflict.
“We cannot let disagreements that could divide us stand in the way of the global priorities that require us all to work together.”
However, China’s reaction to Blinken’s visit was somewhat cold.
In China’s official account of a phone call with Mr Blinken on Wednesday night, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang is said to have told him it was “very clear who was responsible” for the bad recently in a relationship.
“The United States should respect China’s concerns, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests in the name of competition,” he said. Qin said.
The US downplayed any major announcements from this visit. In diplomatic parlance, it seems that the only “thing that can be brought out” from the meetings is whether or not they have taken place.
Don’t expect any breakthrough or transformation in how the two deal with each other, said Daniel J Kritenbrink, senior diplomat for East Asia at the US State Department.
If the meeting leads to further interaction between US and Chinese officials, that will be something both sides can build on.
Defuse trade conflicts
President Biden’s relationship with China is off to a rocky start, in part because of his unwillingness to rescind trade measures enacted by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
That includes billions of dollars in import duties on Chinese-made products.
In some areas, Mr. Biden has tightened even more, with restrictions on US computer chip exports to China in an effort to maintain US dominance in the most advanced electronic technologies. .
China responded by issuing a ban on computer memory chips sold by Micron, the largest US manufacturer.
Mr. Campbell acknowledged China’s concerns but said the United States would defend and explain what it had done so far and what might lie ahead.
If computer technology is an area for fierce rivalry between the two superpowers, the illegal drug trade could offer more opportunities for cooperation.
The United States wants to limit exports of Chinese-made chemical ingredients used to make fentanyl, a synthetic opiate several times more potent than heroin.
The rate of drug overdose deaths in the US associated with fentanyl has more than tripled in the past seven years.
“This is an extremely important and urgent issue for the United States,” said Kritenbrink, but it is an issue that poses its own challenges.
After the hot air balloon incident, it was reported that China was considering sending weapons to Russia, where they would be used immediately in the war against Ukraine.
US government officials recently denied those accusations, dismissing what could be a particularly contentious issue for the two nations that risk turning the Ukraine-Russia conflict into one. proxy war between the United States and China.
But Blinken can be expected to repeat warnings to the Chinese in Vienna that there would be dire consequences if China provided military and financial support to Russia.
US and Chinese warships have faced off in a game of money in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. China claims the area as its own, while the US insists it is international waters.
Mr Blinken and his diplomatic team have said that his aim on this trip is to “reduce the risks” for tensions and renew contacts as a starting point.
Achieving more could be a daunting task at the moment – and deepening cooperation could become even more difficult for Mr. Biden as the anti-China rhetoric in Washington is sure to heat up as the debate continues. The 2024 presidential election is approaching.
A positive outcome from this trip for both sides might simply be the opening of channels of communication to prevent an incident that would lead to a military conflict.