U.S., China pledge to stabilize souring relationship and resume high-level talks after Blinken’s visit

The United States and China pledged to stabilize their badly damaged relations during a critical visit to Beijing by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

It remains to be seen whether the two countries can resolve their most important disagreements, many of which have international financial, security and stability implications.

Both sides have expressed a willingness to continue talking, but there are no signs that either side is prepared to bow to its positions on issues ranging from trade, Taiwan, to human rights terms. man in China and Hong Kong, to Chinese military assertion in the South. China Sea, Russia’s war in Ukraine.

During the meeting with Blinken, Xi said he was satisfied with the outcome of Blinken’s previous meetings with two senior Chinese diplomats, and said the two countries had agreed to resume a program of agreements that he and President Joe Biden had agreed at a meeting in Bali last year.

“The Chinese side has clarified its position and the two sides have agreed to abide by the common understandings that President Biden and I reached in Bali,” Xi said.

That program has been put in jeopardy in recent months, including after the United States shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon over its airspace in February, and amid increased military activity in the strait. of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Combined with disputes over human rights, trade and production of opiates, the list of problem areas is daunting.

But Xi suggested the worst might be over.

“Both sides have also made progress and reached agreement on some specific issues,” Xi said without giving further details, according to a transcript of the remarks released by the State Department. “It is very good.”

“I hope that through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-US relations,” Xi added.

In his remarks to Xi during the 35-minute session at the Great Hall of the People, which was only announced an hour before its start, Blinken said that “the United States and China have an obligation and responsibility to manage our relationships”.

“The United States is committed to doing that,” Blinken said. “It’s in the interest of the United States, in the interest of China, and in the interest of the world.”

Blinken described his earlier discussions with senior Chinese officials as “frank and constructive.”

Despite his presence in China, Blinken and other U.S. officials have downplayed the prospects for meaningful breakthroughs on the thorniest issues facing the world’s two largest economies.

Instead, these officials stressed the importance for both countries to establish and maintain better lines of communication.

Blinken is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office and the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years. His visit is expected to usher in a new series of visits by senior US and Chinese officials, possibly including a meeting between Xi and Biden in the coming months.

Blinken met with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi earlier Monday for about three hours, according to a US official.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement that Blinken’s visit “coincides with a critical turning point in China-US relations, and that it is necessary to make a choice between dialogue or confrontation, cooperation or conflict”, and blamed the US side’s “misperception of China, leading to incorrect policies toward China” for the current “low point” in relations.

He said the United States had a responsibility to stop “the spiraling decline of China-US relations to return them to a healthy and stable path” and that Wang had “demanded that the United States stop promoting of the ‘China threat theory’, illegally lift unilateral sanctions against China, abandon the crackdown on China’s technological development, and refrain from arbitrary interference in China’s internal affairs.

The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of responsibly managing competition between the United States and the PRC through open channels of communication to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict.”

During the first round of talks on Sunday, Blinken met for nearly six hours with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, after which the two countries said they had agreed to continue high-level talks. However, there was no indication that one of the most difficult issues between them was any closer to a resolution.

The United States and China said Qin had accepted an invitation from Blinken to visit Washington, but Beijing made it clear that “China-US relations are at their lowest since their establishment.” This sentiment is widely shared by US officials.

Blinken’s visit comes after his initial plans to travel to China were postponed in February following the downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the United States.

A snub from the Chinese leader would have been a major setback to efforts to restore and maintain communications at higher levels.

And Biden said over the weekend he hoped to be able to meet with Xi in the coming months to address the plethora of differences that divide them.

In his Sunday meetings, Blinken also urged the Chinese to release detained U.S. citizens and take action to curb the production and export of fentanyl precursors that are fueling the opioid crisis in the United States.

On Friday, Xi had hinted at a possible desire to reduce tensions, saying in a meeting with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates that the United States and China could cooperate to “benefit our two countries “.

Since the cancellation of Blinken’s trip in February, there have been high profile engagements. CIA chief William Burns visited China in May, while China’s commerce minister visited the United States. And Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Wang Yi in Vienna in May.

But these were punctuated by outbursts of angry rhetoric from both countries over the Taiwan Strait, their broader intentions in the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war on Ukraine. and US allegations from Washington that Beijing is trying to boost its global surveillance capabilities, including in Cuba.

And, 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, a sign of lingering discontent. .

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