US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in China on Sunday, the highest-level visit by a US official.
With the world’s two largest economies at odds over issues as diverse as trade, technology and regional security, neither side expected breakthroughs during Blingen’s two-day visit.
Both the US and Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that has not ruled out Beijing’s takeover by force, want more stability and a shorter window before elections next year.
After a cordial summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali in November, Blinken’s next visit to China was abruptly postponed by the Chinese spy balloon scandal that began to emerge in January.
Speaking in the US capital before his departure, Blinken said he would try to “manage our relationship responsibly” by finding ways to avoid “miscalculations” between the countries.
“Intensive competition requires sustained diplomacy, and competition does not lead to confrontation or conflict,” he said.
Speaking with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Blinken said the region wants the US to remain a power and find ways to coexist with a rising China.
Balakrishnan said Blinken’s “travel is necessary, but not sufficient.” “In perspective, there are fundamental differences in values. Building mutual respect and strategic trust takes time.
As part of the Biden administration’s focus on keeping allies close, Blinken spoke by phone with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea during his 20-hour trans-Pacific trip.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, traveled alone to Tokyo for a three-way meeting that included Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
In recent months, the United States has reached agreements to send troops to southern Japan and the northern Philippines, both of which are strategically close to Taiwan.
Beijing conducted major military exercises around Taiwan in August, seen as a prelude to an invasion, after a visit by Nancy Pelosi, then the speaker of the US House of Representatives.
In April, China began three days of military exercises after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited the United States and met with current Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Ahead of Blinken’s visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the US should “respect China’s core concerns” and work with Beijing.
“The US must give up the illusion of dealing with China from a position of strength. China and the United States should develop relations based on mutual respect and equality, and respect differences in history, culture, social structure and development path.
Blinken is the first US diplomat to visit Beijing since a brief stop in 2018 by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who fought against China in the final years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Biden administration has kept Trump’s tough line in place, if not in tone, and has made further progress in areas including banning exports to China of advanced semiconductors with military applications.
Unlike Trump, who is running for president again, the Biden administration has said it is willing to work with China on short-term cooperation such as climate — Beijing is sweating in record temperatures in mid-June.
Danny Russell, the top East Asia diplomat during Barack Obama’s second term, said each side has priorities — China seeks to prevent additional U.S. restrictions on technology or support for Taiwan, and the U.S. is eager to prevent an incident. In a military conflict.
“Blinken’s brief visit will not bring about solutions to any of the major problems in the US-China relationship, or even the necessary minor ones. Nor will it stop the two sides from pursuing their competing agendas,” said Russell, now a vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
“But his visit could restart a badly needed face-to-face dialogue and send a signal that both countries are moving away from angry rhetoric on the press platform to sober discussions behind closed doors.”
In a meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Friday, Xi hinted at a possible willingness to ease tensions, saying the US and China could cooperate “to the benefit of both our countries”.
“I believe that the foundation of Sino-US relations lies with the people,” Xi told Gates. “In the present world situation, we can take various measures that will benefit both our countries, our countrymen and the entire human race.”
Biden told White House reporters on Saturday, “I hope that in the next few months, I will meet with Xi again and talk about the legitimate differences that we have, but how to … how to get along.” Opportunities may come at the G20 leaders’ meeting in New Delhi in September and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco hosted by the US in November.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters