© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane for his trip to China and the United Kingdom from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool
By Humeyra Pamuk
BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday, the first senior U.S. diplomat to visit China in five years, amid frosty bilateral relations and dim prospects for a breakthrough on the long list of disputes between the two largest in the world. savings.
After postponing a trip in February after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over US airspace, Blinken is the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. .
During his stay until Monday, he is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Qin Gang, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping, seeking to establish open and long-lasting communication channels to ensure that the strategic rivalry between the two countries does not degenerate into conflict. .
Blinken’s visit is expected to pave the way for more bilateral meetings in the coming months, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. It could also pave the way for meetings between Xi and Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.
Biden said on Saturday he hoped to meet with President Xi in the coming months.
A meeting of the two leaders in November on the Indonesian island of Bali briefly allayed fears of a new Cold War, but after the alleged Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States, high-level communications were cut off. rare.
The rest of the world will be watching Blinken’s journey closely as any escalation between superpowers could have global repercussions on everything from financial markets to trade routes and practices and global supply chains.
“There is recognition on both sides that we need to have high-level communication channels,” a senior State Department official told reporters during a refueling stop in Tokyo en route to Beijing. .
“The fact that we are at an important point in the relationship where I think reducing the risk of miscalculation or, as our Chinese friends often say, stopping the downward spiral of the relationship, is something important” , the official said.
Ties between the countries have deteriorated across the board, raising fears they could one day clash militarily on the self-governing island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own. They also disagree on issues ranging from trade, US efforts to curb China’s semiconductor industry and Beijing’s human rights record.
What is particularly alarming for China’s neighbors is its reluctance to engage in regular military talks with Washington, despite repeated attempts by the United States.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday ahead of his departure for Beijing, Blinken said his trip had three main purposes: to establish crisis management mechanisms, to advance the interests of the United States and its allies and speak directly about related concerns, and explore areas of potential cooperation.
“If we want to make sure, like we are, that the competition we have with China doesn’t escalate into conflict, start by communicating,” Blinken said. He said he would also raise the issue of US citizens detained in China on charges Washington deems politically motivated.
Among the topics likely to be discussed are the potential increase in commercial flights between the two countries, a US official said, describing it as a move that would help promote people-to-people ties, although the official did not foresee no progress.
Still, US officials on a conference call previewing the trip earlier in the week played down any expectation of significant progress. While Blinken’s primary focus will be “frank, direct and constructive” discussions, the officials said, breakthroughs are not likely on major issues, including the flow of fentanyl precursors and Americans detained in China.
Seeking cooperation from China to stem the flow of fentanyl precursors was a key item on the agenda, the US official said. The Chinese side has been reluctant to cooperate on the issue, US officials said.