Sunday, September 24, 2023

Blinken is visiting Beijing on a mission to mend frayed US-China relations -Dlight News


Blinken is visiting Beijing on a mission to mend frayed US-China relations. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday on a much-anticipated mission to mend US-China relations, which fell apart in February after an alleged Chinese spy balloon flew over North America.

Blinken will be the first secretary of state to visit China since 2018, a reflection of the strict Chinese lockdown during the pandemic, but also of how US-China relations have sunk to their lowest level in decades.

His trip follows a meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping in Bali in November when they agreed on the need to build a “floor” under the relationship. But the plan was derailed in February when Blinken canceled a visit to China because of the balloon.

The relationship has been on a downward trajectory in recent years. U.S. Concerned about everything from China’s military activity around Taiwan to Russia’s refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Beijing has accused it of trying to control China with export restrictions on advanced technology and security measures taken with its allies.

The relationship reached its nadir in late January when a Chinese balloon appeared over North America and traveled across the continent, including sensitive military sites, before being shot down by the US.

From last one month there are signs of improvement. The Financial Times reported that CIA Director Bill Burns secretly visited China in May, and that same month US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan met China’s top foreign policy official Wang Yi in Vienna. Biden later said at the G7 in Hiroshima, Japan, that he expected an imminent “thaw” in relations.

A senior US official said relations were now “at a place where we can move forward with the Bali agenda”.

“That’s what this trip is about,” said the official, who warned that Blinken was “very clear” that progress would be “difficult” to achieve.

“This trip is reunification, not detente. It needs to stop the freefall in relations and find a basis for stability,” said Ivan Medeiros, a Georgetown University China expert. “Both countries need and want the meeting not to go badly, but it is too early to talk about success.”

Daniel Krittenbrink, the State Department’s top official for East Asia, said Blinken has three goals, including the need for communication channels to ensure competition “does not devolve into conflict.” He said Blinken would also raise issues of concern while exploring potential areas of cooperation.

Dennis Wilder, a former CIA top China specialist, said the visit would end a period of “deep resentment” but would do little to address “fundamental mistrust”.

“The Chinese are upset by Secretary Blinken’s postponement of his visit earlier this year and his public warnings to Beijing at the Munich Security Conference. [in February] About China’s potentially lethal aid to Russia.

Blinken will hold two days of meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and other officials. It is unclear whether he will meet Xi, whom he was due to meet in February.

Wilder said any decision by Xi not to meet Blinken would be a “strong signal” that China is concerned the US will take further steps to curb its advanced technological development and other “risk-free” efforts.

A Chinese scholar said Blinken’s trip would only be successful if he met Xi. He said it would be a “snub” if he met only Qin or Wang because they are not as powerful in China as the secretary of state in the US.

While U.S. officials say enough time has passed since the balloon incident to resume high-level meetings, it still hangs over ties.

The FT previously reported that China was reluctant to give Blinken a visit due to concerns that the FBI would reveal the results of the balloon investigation. In a letter cited by the FT story, 19 Republican senators urged Biden this week not to succumb to Chinese efforts to “coerce the US into silence” and “immediately” release the FBI’s findings.

Raja Krishnamurthy, the top Democrat on the House China Committee, said he had reviewed some of the balloon-related material provided by the FBI and that the information was “eye-opening.”

“For them [China] To call it a weather balloon. . . It is not the best look for them,” he added.

Asked Saturday if the trip could help ease tensions, Biden said Xi did not know what the balloon, which China claims was a weather observation vessel, was doing. “It was more embarrassing than intentional,” he said, adding that he hoped to meet Xi “in the next few months.”

Mike Gallagher, the Republican head of the House China Committee, told the FT that the president’s comments were “naive and misleading”.

“We cannot afford to mistake the recent violation of our sovereignty and escalating aggression by the Chinese Communist Party as a mere accident”.

Some analysts said China may seek a “strategic pause” in tensions to enable it to address its ailing economy, which is struggling to recover from earlier strict Covid restrictions. US tightening export controls and anti-espionage laws and cracking down on foreign advisers have also hurt Chinese investor sentiment.

But in a warning to those hoping for a quick thaw, China’s foreign ministry warned the US on Friday to bite the tongue, warning Washington against seeking continued “communication” while “damaging China’s interests”.

Back in Washington, the Biden administration also faces criticism from Republicans, including Gallagher, who has described efforts to deal with Beijing as a “zombie engagement.” This week he told CNBC that efforts to offer olive branches to China to induce engagement were an “invitation to aggression.”

But his Democratic counterpart, Krishnamurthy, said high-level meetings could help stabilize relations and that China needed to clearly communicate how its aggressive behavior could “trigger escalation”.

“Mike would love zombie movies . . . but it’s really important that we have these talks, that we do everything we can to be clear and at the same time listen carefully and then try to find ways to discourage aggression.”

Follow up Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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