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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Blinken meets Xi as China and the US try to manage tensions

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting China’s leader, Xi Jinping, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.

By Edward Wong and David Pierson

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Xi Jinping, China’s leader, on Monday in Beijing, as the two governments sought to pull relations out of a deep freeze that has raised global concerns about the growing risk of a conflict between them.

The 35-minute meeting sent a signal, at least for now, that the United States and China do not want their relationship to be defined by open hostility, and that they recognize that their rivalry and their diplomatic efforts carry enormous stakes.

Blinken and Xi held talks at the Great Hall of the People, the grand building on the west side of Tiananmen Square where Xi often receives state leaders. Striking a congenial note at the top of the meeting, Xi praised the two sides for making progress on some issues during Blinken’s visit, saying: “This is very good.”

Blinken told Xi that the U.S. government was committed to responsibly managing its relations with China, according to a State Department statement. “It’s in the interest of the United States, in the interests of China, and in the interest of the world,” he said.

Both Xi and President Joe Biden have been under growing pressure by other world leaders to tamp down their nations’ increasingly contentious stances toward each other. Any armed conflict between the United States and China, whether over Taiwan, the de facto independent island that Beijing claims as its territory, or another dispute, is widely regarded as potentially cataclysmic. The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies, are nuclear powers and are the dominant players in advanced technologies and other critical industries.

Officials in Washington and Beijing increasingly speak of the need to halt the rapid decline in relations. But even as they engage in high-level diplomacy aimed at some sort of détente, the two governments also see the need to demonstrate that they are not compromising on core issues.

In his opening remarks at the meeting with Blinken, Xi hinted at China’s grievances, saying: “State-to-state interactions should always be based on mutual respect and sincerity. I hope that through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-U.S. relations.”

Over the two days of meetings, diplomats did not voice any hope for sudden or dramatic breakthroughs in repairing the relationship. Instead, they focused on trying to rebuild channels of communication that had crumbled in recent months and on bolstering negotiations on smaller issues, such as visas and commercial flights between the two countries.

Blinken held talks Monday morning with Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, who took a tough tone as he lay the blame on Washington for the recent tensions.

Wang said the United States should cooperate with Beijing instead of “hyping” the “China threat theory,” according to an official Chinese readout. He said Washington must lift sanctions on China and stop suppressing the country’s technological development. He accused the United States of “recklessly interfering in China’s internal affairs” on issues such as Taiwan, which the United States supplies with weapons.

The State Department described Blinken’s meeting with Wang as “candid and productive,” saying that Blinken stressed that the two powers had to responsibly manage their rivalry and communicate better to “ensure competition does not veer into conflict.” It also said the two officials discussed how their countries could cooperate on “shared transnational challenges.” U.S. officials say those challenges include climate change, global economic instability and the control of the production of fentanyl, the deadly opioid.

Blinken, who also met with Qin Gang, the Chinese foreign minister, on Sunday, is the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Beijing since 2018. His mission is taking place as bilateral relations have plummeted over a half-dozen years to their lowest point in decades. Tensions soared in February when the Pentagon announced that a Chinese surveillance balloon was drifting across the continental United States — prompting Blinken to cancel an imminent trip to Beijing — and then ordered U.S. fighter jets to shoot it down.

Relations were further strained in late February when Blinken confronted Wang on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to tell him that Washington believed China was considering providing lethal support to Russia for its war in Ukraine. China responded by freezing some important diplomatic exchanges and intensifying anti-American rhetoric.

Republican politicians have tried to portray the Biden administration as being soft on China, even though Biden and his aides have enacted tough commercial policies such as export controls to try to limit China’s growth in strategic sectors, notably semiconductors, and have strengthened military cooperation with countries across Asia. Some Republican lawmakers have even criticized Blinken for making his trip to China, saying it amounted to a concession to Beijing. The heated language on China among U.S. politicians is expected to intensify next year, when Biden seeks reelection.

U.S. officials say maintaining regular senior-level dialogue is important so the two governments can quickly talk with each other during any crises that might arise, especially since their militaries are increasingly coming into close contact with each other in the seas and in the air around China and other parts of Asia.

State Department officials said that during Blinken’s visit, the two governments agreed to have working groups and diplomats meet soon on a range of issues, including increased access to each country for journalists, scholars and students. The officials also said the two sides agreed to expand direct commercial flights between the two nations.

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