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Blinken takes ‘baby steps’ to revive US-China relations

The top US diplomat held talks with Wang Yi in Beijing amid reports he may also meet President Xi Jinping.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Beijing as the two countries took steps to repair their strained relationship.

The two posed for a photo at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday before heading to diplomatic talks.

It remains unclear whether Blinken will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the day before he flies to London at the end of his two-day visit.

The meeting with Wang Ye followed a similar meeting on Sunday between Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, which the US State Department described as a “frank, substantive and constructive” effort to maintain “open channels of communication”.

After more than seven hours of talks, Blinken invited the Qin gang to the United States for a follow-up visit to maintain high-level contacts between Chinese and American officials.

The Chinese reading of the meeting was also largely positive and said both sides agreed to increase commercial flights between China and the US as well as encourage more people-to-people exchanges through student, academic and business groups.

US and Chinese delegations at the table.  They sit across from each other at a long table.  There are plants in the middle.  On the back are the country's flag and Chinese calligraphy.
Relations between the U.S. and China have declined amid concerns over semiconductors from Taiwan and various human rights issues [Leah Millis/Pool via AFP]

It also referred to the meeting between Xi and US President Joe Biden in Bali last year, when both leaders pledged to take more concrete steps to improve communication.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund, said that while Blinken’s trip has been largely symbolic so far, it appears to have gone well because of the relatively low expectations surrounding it.

“Given the deep mistrust in the relationship, the tour so far has gone better than I expected. The chances of a breakthrough were zero. We can only hope for baby steps towards a new way of relating,” he told Al Jazeera by email.

Blinken was originally scheduled to visit China in February but his trip was delayed by a Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States and gathering information on domestic military sites.

His visit is the most senior by a US official to China since 2019, thanks to Covid-19 travel restrictions, and months of increased contact between US and Chinese officials abroad and through virtual meetings.

Biden said over the weekend that he hopes to meet with Xi again in the coming months, an event that will likely take place at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping’s annual summit in California later this year.

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