Blinken is heading to China this weekend on a mission to save collapsing ties and keep communications open

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China this weekend as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to mend deteriorating ties between Washington and Beijing and keep the lines of communication open, he said. the State Department announced Wednesday.

Blinken will be the most senior US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office. His visit was originally scheduled for early this year, but was postponed indefinitely after what the United States said was discovered and shot down as a Chinese spy balloon over the United States.

Since then, however, there have been lower-level engagements between the United States and China despite continued hostility and recriminations over the two sides’ actions in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, denial China’s condemnation of Russia for its war on Ukraine, and Washington’s claims that Beijing is trying to build up its global surveillance capabilities, including Cuba.

The State Department said Blinken spoke Tuesday night with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Qin Gang, to confirm his trip, which will begin on Sunday and was first reported by The Associated Press and other news outlets last week. Blinken will leave Washington late Friday.

“While in Beijing, Secretary Blinken will meet with senior PRC officials where he will discuss the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage U.S.-PRC relations,” said the department, using the acronym People’s Republic of China. “It will also raise bilateral issues of concern, global and regional issues and potential cooperation on common transnational challenges.”

In its reading of the phone call, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Qin had urged the United States to respect “China’s core concerns”, such as the issue of Taiwan autonomy, “to cease to interfere in China’s internal affairs and stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and safety.” development interests in the name of competition.

Qin noted that China-US relations “have encountered new difficulties and challenges” since the beginning of the year, and the responsibility of both sides is to work together to properly handle differences, promote exchanges and cooperation and stabilize relations, he added.

Blinken, who will be the first secretary of state to visit China since 2018, plans to meet with Qin on Sunday, as well as China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and possibly Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, US officials say. .

The trip will take place amid myriad complications in US-China relations, which have steadily declined in recent years since the Trump administration began with commercial and industrial espionage.

These concerns quickly grew to include human rights concerns about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in China’s western region of Xinjang, Hong Kong, Tibet, and aggressive China’s growing interest in Taiwan, then escalated with questions about the origin of COVID-19. virus.

Blinken’s visit was agreed between Xi and Biden last year at a meeting in Bali where leaders agreed that the world’s two largest economies must stay in touch and take precautions to ensure that there are no miscalculations in their global rivalry that could lead to conflict. The trip came a day after taking place in February, but was delayed after the spy balloon incident. Beijing insists the craft was a weather balloon that veered off course.

Contacts took place afterward, but they were rare as tensions rose over China’s conduct in the South China Sea, aggressive actions against Taiwan, and support for Russia’s war on Iran. Ukraine. Earlier this month, China’s defense minister rejected a request from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore.

However, shortly after postponing his trip to Beijing, Blinken briefly met Wang at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. And CIA chief William Burns visited China in May, while China’s commerce minister visited the United States last month. And Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Wang in Vienna in early May.

Most recently, the top US diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region, Daniel Kritenbrink, visited China last week with a senior National Security Council official to finalize details of Blinken’s trip.

Over the past few days, however, the Biden administration has said it has quietly blunted Chinese efforts to bolster its intelligence gathering and military capabilities around the world, including in Cuba.

Blinken said Monday that when Biden took office in January 2021, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed him “on a number of sensitive efforts by Beijing around the world to expand their overseas logistics, the foreign gathering infrastructure to allow them to project and sustain military power at a great distance.”

“They were looking at a number of sites around the world for this expansion, including facilities for this intelligence gathering in Cuba,” he said.

Although the Chinese already upgraded their facilities in Cuba in 2019, Blinken said Biden determined more needed to be done because Trump administration officials were “not making enough progress on this issue and we needed a more direct approach”.

He did not specify what had been done since, although the Biden administration has moved quickly to expand its diplomatic presence, particularly in the Indian Ocean and Pacific island countries, where it has opened or plans to open. open at least five new embassies over the next year or so.

“We executed this approach quietly, carefully, but in our opinion, with results,” Blinken said. “We have engaged governments that are considering hosting PRC bases at high levels. We exchanged information with them. Our experts believe that our diplomatic efforts have slowed down this PRC effort.

After his meetings in Beijing, Blinken will travel to London to attend a conference on rebuilding Ukraine on June 21, the State Department said.

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