Blinken meets with Xi Jinping in bid to ease China tensions

HONG KONG — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, the second and final day of a high-stakes visit aimed at easing spiraling tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Blinken’s trip to China is the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 2018. He is also the highest-ranking U.S. 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 had not been confirmed by either side until shortly before they were scheduled to begin.

Blinken’s meetings with senior Chinese officials were expected to touch on a number of areas of dispute including trade, Taiwan, human rights, Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Earlier Monday, Blinken had a three-hour meeting with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, that the State Department called “candid and productive.” 

Blinken “underscored the importance of responsibly managing the competition between the United States and [China] through open channels of communication to ensure competition does not veer into conflict,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

The secretary also “reiterated that the United States will continue to use diplomacy to raise areas of concern and stand up for the interests and values of the American people.” 

Blinken China Visit
Blinken is greeted at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday.Leah Millis / AFP – Getty Images

According to a readout from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang blamed the United States’ “wrong perception” of China for the poor relations between the two countries and said Washington had to make a choice “between dialogue and confrontation, and cooperation and conflict.”

He said it was important to reverse the “downward spiral” in the relationship, return it to a healthy and stable path and “jointly explore the right way for China and the United States to get along with each other in the new era.”

Wang asked that the U.S. lift sanctions on Chinese entities and stop suppressing China’s technological development, a reference to U.S. export controls on semiconductor technology. He also emphasized China’s position on Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy that Beijing claims as its territory and whose status is one of the biggest flashpoints in U.S.-China relations.

China has accused the U.S., Taiwan’s most important international backer, of promoting Taiwan independence through official exchanges between the island’s president and senior U.S. officials such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her successor, Kevin McCarthy. The Biden administration denies that U.S. policy on Taiwan has changed.

On the question of Taiwan, “China has no room for compromise or concession,” the readout said.

State Department officials had said the two countries were unlikely to reach any breakthroughs during Blinken’s trip, which had originally been planned for February but was postponed after the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over U.S. territory. China, while emphasizing the importance of resuming high-level communication, had also expressed less enthusiasm ahead of Blinken’s visit this week than it did before the earlier trip was postponed.

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

Biden told reporters on Saturday that he hoped to meet with Xi in coming months to discuss “legitimate differences we have but also how there’s areas we can get along.”

After arriving on Sunday, Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang for talks that both sides described as “candid” and “constructive.” Those talks lasted for almost six hours, followed by a two-hour working dinner, according to senior State Department officials.

Blinken China Visit
U.S. and Chinese delegations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday.Leah Millis / AP

Blinken “emphasized the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation,” Miller, the State Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

Blinken also “made clear that the United States will always stand up for the interests and values of the American people and work with its allies and partners to advance our vision for a world that is free, open, and upholds the international rules-based order,” Miller said.

Qin noted that U.S.-China ties are at their lowest point since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979.

“This does not serve the fundamental interests of the two peoples or meet the shared expectations of the international community,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a readout of the meeting.

Like Wang, Qin raised the Taiwan issue as “the core of China’s core interests.”

“China hopes that the U.S. will adopt an objective and rational perception of China, work with China in the same direction, uphold the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and handle unexpected and sporadic events in a calm, professional and rational manner,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry readout said. 

The two countries said Qin, who was previously the Chinese ambassador to the United States, had accepted an invitation from Blinken to visit the U.S. at a mutually suitable time.

Evelyn Cheng, CNBC, Murphy Zhao and Abigail Williams contributed.

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