US Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarked on a diplomatic trip to China to try to defuse escalating tensions between the two superpowers that have embarrassed many around the world.

Blinken will be the highest-ranking US official to visit China since the president Joe Biden took office and was the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years.

But the prospect of any significant breakthrough in the most intractable issues facing the planet’s two largest economies is slim, as relations have already become increasingly strained in recent years. Hostilities and recriminations have steadily escalated over a series of disagreements that have implications for global security and stability.

Blinken arrives in Beijing on Sunday for two days of talks. He expects to meet with Foreign Minister Qin Gang, top diplomat Wang Yi and possibly China’s president on Sunday You are Jinping on Monday, according to US officials.

Biden and Xi agreed to Blinken’s trip early at a meeting in Bali last year. It happened over a single day in February, but was delayed by diplomatic and political turmoil caused by the discovery of what the US says was a Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States that had been shot down.

The list of disagreements and potential points of conflict is long: ranging from trade with Taiwan to human rights conditions in China to Hong Kong, as well as China’s military assertiveness in the South China Sea to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

U.S. officials said before Blinken’s departure from Washington on Friday that they would promote each of them, although neither side showed any inclination to back down from their positions.

Shortly before his departure, Blinken stressed the importance of the US and China establishing and maintaining better lines of communication. The U.S. wants to make sure “that the competition we have with China doesn’t turn into a conflict” because of avoidable misunderstandings, he told reporters.

Biden and Xi pledged to improve communication “just so we can make sure we’re communicating as clearly as possible to avoid potential misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Blinken said Friday.

Xi offered a hint of a possible willingness to ease tensions, saying on Friday that the United States and China could work together to “benefit our two countries” at a meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

“I believe that the foundation of China-US relations lies in the people,” Xi told Gates. “In the current world situation, we can carry out various activities that benefit our two countries, the people of our countries and the entire human race.”

There have been several high-profile engagements since Blinken’s trip was canceled in February. CIA chief William Burns traveled to China in May, while China’s commerce minister traveled to the US and Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Yi in Vienna in May.

But these have been punctuated by bursts of angry rhetoric from both sides over the Taiwan Strait, their broader intentions in the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war on Ukraine and US accusations from Washington that Beijing is seeking to strengthen its global surveillance capabilities, including over Cuba.

And earlier this month, China’s defense minister rejected a request by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore, a sign of continued discontent.

Austin said Friday he was confident he and his Chinese counterpart “will meet at some point, but we’re not there yet.”

China underscored the situation by dismissing as “far-fetched and unprofessional” a report by a US security firm that accused Chinese-linked hackers of attacks on hundreds of public agencies, schools and other targets around the world.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry repeated accusations that Washington was carrying out hacking attacks and complained that the cyber security industry rarely reported on them.

This followed a similar rejoinder earlier in the week, when China said Qin, in a phone call with Blinken, urged the United States to respect “China’s core concerns” such as the issue of Taiwan’s self-governance and “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs “. and stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition.”

Meanwhile, the national security advisers of the United States, Japan and the Philippines held their first joint talks on Friday and agreed to boost their defense cooperation, in part to counter China’s growing influence and ambitions.

This coincides with the Biden administration signing an agreement with Australia and Britain to provide the first nuclear-powered submarine, with China moving rapidly to expand its diplomatic presence, particularly in the Indian Ocean and Pacific island states where it has opened up or is opening up. plans to open at least five new embassies over the next year.

The deal is part of the 18-month-old nuclear partnership, with the acronym AUKUS – for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Before Blinken’s departure, two US officials downplayed hopes for much progress, stressing that the trip was aimed at restoring a sense of calm and normalcy to high-level contacts.

“We come to Beijing with a realistic, confident attitude and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible manner possible,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific.

Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s top Asia expert, said: “Intense competition requires intense diplomacy if we are to manage tensions. That is the only way to clear up misperceptions, signal, communicate and cooperate where and when our interests align .”

Source Link