US, China pledge to stabilize ties after Blinken meeting with Xi

HONG KONG — China and the United States on Monday hailed “progress” and pledged to stabilize a spiraling relationship, but failed to make a significant breakthrough after Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with President Xi Jinping.

The 35-minute meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Chinese capital, capped the second and final day of a high-stakes visit by the top US diplomat aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

“We have no illusions about the challenges of managing this relationship. There are many issues on which we deeply, even vehemently, disagree,” Blinken told a press conference after his meeting with Xi.

However, he added, “it is the responsibility of both countries to find a way forward and it is both in our interest and in the interest of the world that we do so.”

Blinken said he expects more visits to China from senior US officials in the coming weeks, and that the United States also welcomes visits from Chinese officials.

In remarks ahead of their meeting, Xi said “the two sides have also made progress and reached agreement on some specific issues,” without giving details.

There has been no apparent progress, however, in restoring several military-to-military communication channels that China cut in protest against former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. Blinken called those communications “absolutely vital,” especially given recent military encounters between the United States and China in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

“China hasn’t agreed to go ahead with this,” Blinken said.

Blinken’s trip to China is the first by a US secretary of state since 2018, and he is also the highest-ranking US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office. His talks with Xi – seen as key to the trip’s success – were expected but were not confirmed until shortly before their scheduled start.

Ties between the two countries have deteriorated in recent months over trade, Taiwan, human rights, Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

During the meeting with Blinken, Xi said China was not seeking to challenge or displace the United States on the world stage, but insisted that America must respect China’s rights and interests. , according to a reading from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For his part, Blinken denied that the United States is trying to contain China economically, as Xi has accused, and said Washington wants to see economic growth in all regions of the world.

“But at the same time, we can, we will and we must take the necessary steps to protect our national security,” he said, referring to US efforts to limit China’s access to technology. semiconductors, among other actions he described as “narrowly focused.”

Blinken earlier met with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, both of whom also attended the meeting with Xi.

State Department officials said the two countries are unlikely to achieve breakthroughs on Blinken’s trip, which was originally scheduled for February but was postponed after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was found over the American territory.

China, while stressing the importance of resuming high-level communication, also expressed less enthusiasm ahead of Blinken’s visit this week than before the postponement of the previous trip.

But it could set the stage for talks later this year between Biden and Xi, who last met in Indonesia last November on the sidelines of a Group of 20 major economies summit.

After arriving on Sunday, Blinken met with Qin, China’s foreign minister, for talks that both sides described as “frank” and “constructive.” Those talks lasted nearly six hours, followed by a two-hour working dinner, according to senior State Department officials.

Blinken China Xi Jinping (Leah Millis/AFP - Getty Images)

Blinken China Xi Jinping (Leah Millis/AFP – Getty Images)

The two countries said Qin, who previously served as China’s ambassador to Washington, had accepted an invitation from Blinken to visit the United States at a mutually convenient time.

Blinken then had a three-hour meeting on Monday with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, who appeared to be a bit more agitated.

Wang blamed the United States’ “misperceptions” of China for the poor relations between the two countries and said Washington must make a choice “between dialogue and confrontation, and cooperation and conflict”.

He underscored China’s position on Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing claims as its territory and whose status is one of the biggest flashpoints in US-China relations.

China has accused the United States, Taiwan’s main international backer, of promoting Taiwan independence through official exchanges between the island’s president and senior US officials such as Pelosi and his successor. , Kevin McCarthy.

Blinken said he reiterated to Chinese officials that US policy on Taiwan had not changed, while raising concerns of the United States and others over China’s “provocative” military actions in the Taiwan Strait in recent years. years.

“We don’t support Taiwan independence,” he said. “We remain opposed to any unilateral change to the status quo by either party.”

Blinken said the United States stands ready to cooperate with China in areas of mutual interest such as climate change, public health, food security and counter-narcotics. He said he raised the issue of wrongful detentions of US citizens and asked for “much greater cooperation” from China to curb the export of fentanyl precursors that are driving the US opioid crisis.

The two sides also agreed to encourage academic exchanges and business travel and to work to increase the number of passenger flights between the two countries, which are still less than 6% of their pre-pandemic level. .

Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, said Blinken’s visit was a “good start” that could open the door to visits by other senior US officials such as the Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. and John Kerry, the president’s special climate envoy.

“There are a lot of complex issues that cannot all be resolved in one visit,” Wang, a former adviser to the State Council, China’s top administrative body, told NBC News. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Still, the US-China relationship is “clearly at an impasse” as China seeks to shift the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region, said Drew Thompson, visiting senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. from the National University of Singapore.

“The American goal, particularly for Secretary Blinken’s visit, is to manage competition and avoid conflict,” said Thompson, a former Defense Department official. “But China has a different set of goals, which is to exercise its authority and power so that it becomes the dominant political and economic power in the region, and that will be at the expense of American interests.”

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