Blinken says the US is ‘trying to put some stability’ into its relationship with China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that the United States was trying to strengthen “lines of communication” with China to avoid a conflict between the two superpowers.

“We’re working to put some stability in the relationship, to put a floor under the relationship, to make sure that the competition that we’re in doesn’t turn into conflict,” Blinken told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that aired Sunday. A conflict, the secretary added, “would not be in our interest, their interest or anyone else’s”.

Blinken, who was speaking on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, made a much-anticipated trip to China last month, becoming the first secretary of state to visit the country in five years and the highest-ranking U.S. official to carry out such a mission since President Joe Biden took office in 2021. His visit was followed by similar trips by other senior Biden administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the envoy American for the climate John Kerry.

“We didn’t talk much before. Now we are. We have different groups that are engaged, or about to engage, on low-key issues … which are issues … in the relationship where I think we can, I think, come to a resolution,” Blinken said. “Now these are the early days. The proof will be in the results.

After days of talks with senior Chinese officials in Beijing, Blinken touted that “progress” had been made in getting relations back on track.

The two world powers are increasingly at odds on a host of issues ranging from Beijing’s close ties with Moscow to US efforts to limit the sale of cutting-edge technology to China.

Earlier this year, a Chinese surveillance balloon that was detected floating across the United States and hovering over sensitive military sites before finally being shot down by a US fighter jet plunged relations to a new low and led Blinken to abandon an earlier visit to Beijing.

“I’ve been very clear with my Chinese counterparts,” Blinken told Zakaria, referring to his trip last month. “We will continue to do and say things that China will not like, just as they will continue to do and say things that we will not like.”

“The test for us is whether we can get through this, to make sure that we maintain those lines of communication, that we keep talking and that we work, as I said, both to manage the differences and to see if we can cooperate,” the secretary said.

CNN previously reported that one of the major unresolved issues on Blinken’s trip was restoring military communications between the United States and China. Contacts between the countries’ top military officials remain frozen, and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu continues to be under US sanction since 2018 for the purchase of Russian weapons by China’s Equipment Development Department, for which Li was then responsible.

Asked by Zakaria whether the US should lift the sanction to ease tensions, Blinken said, “These sanctions don’t prevent the minister from engaging or engaging us with him,” adding that “it’s a political decision, indeed, for China to decide whether or not he should engage.”

China has rejected a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Shangfu at a security forum in Singapore earlier this year, although the two spoke briefly.

“We’ve been very clear that we think it’s our responsibility to have these military-to-military contacts, to have this dialogue, especially to avoid any miscalculations, any misperceptions of what we’re each doing,” Blinken said. “So we’ll see where China comes out of this.”

On the Ukrainian front, Blinken told Zakaria that Russia had “already lost” the war “in terms of what Russia was trying to achieve and what (Vladimir) Putin was trying to achieve.”

“The objective was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, its sovereignty, to include it in Russia. It failed a long time ago,” the secretary said.

Blinken acknowledged that Ukraine’s mission to regain territory captured by Moscow would be “a very tough fight”. He predicted that the counter-offensive against Russia would continue for “several months”.

However, he said, with the help, military equipment and training that Ukraine receives from various countries, kyiv’s cause represents “the decisive element”.

“Unlike Russians, Ukrainians are fighting for their land, for their future, for their country, for their freedom,” Blinken said.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Blinken’s prediction of a conflict continuing for “several months” was a reference to the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Simone McCarthy and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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