Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the United States, has arrived in Beijing on a highly significant trip, marking the highest-level visit by a US official to China in nearly five years.
Frosty Bilateral Ties and Balloon Episode Delay
Blinken’s two-day trip, commencing on Sunday, takes place amidst strained bilateral relations between China and the US. Earlier this year in February, the discovery of a suspected spy balloon above the US prompted Blinken to postpone a planned visit. With the world’s two largest economies at odds on various fronts, including trade, technology, and regional security, both nations express cautious optimism about improving communication, although they temper expectations of a significant breakthrough.
Balloon Episode Downplayed by President Biden
As Blinken embarks on his trip to China, US President Joe Biden downplays the balloon episode, stating, “I don’t think the leadership knew where it was and knew what was in it and knew what was going on.” During a press conference, Biden further remarks, “I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional.”
Hope for Future Meetings
President Biden expresses his desire to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping once again, following their extensive meeting in November on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali. During that meeting, the two leaders agreed on Blinken’s forthcoming visit. Biden affirms, “I’m hoping that, over the next several months, I’ll be meeting with Xi again and talking about legitimate differences we have but also how there are areas we can get along.”
Future Summits and Diplomatic Engagements
Both leaders are expected to attend the upcoming G20 summit in New Delhi in September. Additionally, Xi Jinping has received an invitation to travel to San Francisco in November when the US hosts the leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping. These meetings present crucial opportunities for bilateral discussions and engagement.
Blinken’s Agenda in Beijing
During his visit, Blinken is scheduled to meet with top Chinese officials and participate in a banquet at the state guesthouse in the Diaoyutai gardens. Prior to his departure, Blinken had a phone call with his Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang, which underscored the heightened tensions between the two sides. Qin emphasized the need for the US to acknowledge Beijing’s “core concerns,” particularly regarding Taiwan. He also urged the US to cease interfering in China’s internal affairs, halt actions that harm China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests under the guise of competition.
Deteriorating Relations and Concerns
The relationship between Beijing and Washington has deteriorated across multiple fronts, raising concerns about the potential for military clashes in the future, particularly over Taiwan, which China claims as its own. Disputes encompass trade, US efforts to restrict China’s semiconductor industry, and China’s human rights record. China’s reluctance to engage in regular military-to-military talks with the US has been alarming to neighboring countries, despite repeated attempts from the US to initiate dialogue.
Blinken’s Objectives and Regional Allies
Before his departure, Blinken outlined three main objectives for his trip: establishing crisis management mechanisms, advancing the interests of the US and its allies, and engaging in direct discussions regarding relevant concerns. He emphasizes the importance of communication to prevent the competition between the US and China from escalating into conflict.
In addition to his visit to Beijing, Blinken maintained close ties with US allies. During his 20-hour journey across the Pacific, he had telephone conversations with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, traveled to Tokyo for separate three-way meetings involving Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Recently, the US has reached agreements on troop deployments in southern Japan and the northern Philippines, strategically positioning themselves near Taiwan.
Nurturing Mutual Respect and Strategic Trust
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan of Singapore, a US ally, highlights the significance of Blinken’s visit but also underscores the need for time to build mutual respect and strategic trust. Balakrishnan acknowledges the fundamental differences in outlook and values between the US and China, emphasizing the importance of finding ways for both nations to coexist despite these differences.
Blinken’s Historic Visit
Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing as the Secretary of State is the first by a top US diplomat since his predecessor Mike Pompeo’s stopover in 2018. Pompeo, during the final years of Donald Trump’s presidency, pursued a confrontational approach towards China without reservation. Blinken’s visit signifies an opportunity for renewed engagement and dialogue between the two nations.