The United States has confirmed that top diplomat Anthony Blinken will visit China this week, a long-awaited visit that was postponed in February amid rising tensions between the two superpowers.
Blinken will become the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit China on a trip from June 16 to 21 that will also include a visit to London, the State Department said Wednesday.
In Beijing, Binken will meet with senior Chinese officials to discuss “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication” between the United States and China, the statement said. It did not specify any officers.
The top US diplomat “will also highlight potential cooperation on bilateral issues of concern, global and regional issues and shared transnational challenges,” the brief said.
US officials quickly downplayed expectations.
“We are not going to Beijing with the intention of making any kind of progress or change in the way we deal with each other,” Daniel Krittenbrink, the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia, told reporters in a briefing call on Wednesday. .
“We are coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible,” Krittenbrink said.
In the same call, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said Blinken would focus on advancing the “top-line goals” of his agenda, but did not try to “create a long list of deliverables.”
Topping these goals would be better military-to-military communication, which has proven a particular area of concern in recent times.
“I believe Secretary Blinken will strongly support that these lines of communication are necessary,” Campbell told reporters. “The stakes are high given how mature, powerful militaries interact and avoid these critical lines of communication.”
On Tuesday, Blinken spoke by phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, emphasizing “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage the relationship responsibly,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Blinken also “made it clear that the US will continue to use diplomatic engagement to enhance areas of concern as well as areas of potential cooperation,” the statement said.
China took a more confrontational tone in a readout of the call with Blinken, saying that Qin had warned that relations between the two countries had faced “new difficulties and challenges” since the start of the year.
“It is clear who is responsible,” Qin said, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
He added, “China has always viewed and managed China-US relations in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation put forward by President Xi Jinping.”
Tensions between the two countries — over trade, espionage, military presence in the Indo-Pacific, the war in Ukraine and the future of self-ruled Taiwan — were on full display in February, when Blinken delayed a planned visit to China.
The delay comes amid controversy over a Chinese spy balloon that drifted over the continental United States. More recently, US officials, including Blinken, have graciously acknowledged that China operated spying facilities in Cuba for years, which were upgraded in 2019. US media had previously reported on the spy base
Rhetoric remains high over Taiwan, with Biden saying last year that the United States would defend the island, which Beijing claims as its own territory, in case of incursions from mainland China. The United States has for years maintained an official policy of “strategic ambiguity” under which it provides key military support to Taiwan, but does not explicitly recognize or commit to coming to the island’s aid in the event of a Chinese attack.
Earlier this month, the US Navy accused its Chinese counterpart of conducting “unsafe” maneuvers near a US destroyer in the Taiwan Strait. Officials described the incident as one of several close calls in recent years that have led to accidents and increased risks, including an incident in May when a Chinese fighter jet flew in front of a US surveillance plane over the South China Sea. The US called the strategy “unnecessarily aggressive” while China blamed it on US “provocation”. Officials said these incidents underscore the need for better communication.
It has also sought to strengthen its ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific region, including the informal Quad Grouping of the United States, Australia, India and Japan. It has signed a new security agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom, called AUKUS, which seeks to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
Trade relations have also been combative in recent years, with Biden maintaining a host of aggressive tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration has also imposed export controls on some key advanced technologies, such as semiconductors and the equipment used to make them, while encouraging allies to do the same and trying to move critical supply chains away from China.
For its part, Beijing has regularly accused Washington of a dangerous “Cold War” mentality.
Nevertheless, the two countries have made some overtures in recent months to keep tensions under control. They have sought cooperation in some areas, particularly climate change.
Last month, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, held extensive, closed-door meetings with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Ye in Vienna.
The US called the talks “candid, substantive and constructive”.
China’s embassy in Washington, DC said the talks were “focused on removing obstacles to China-US relations and stabilizing relations from deterioration”.
Blinken previously met Ye on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February.