The U.S. secretary of state and Chinese foreign minister on Sunday held what both called candid and constructive talks on their differences from Taiwan to trade but seemed to agree on little beyond keeping the conversation going with an eventual meeting in Washington.
Speaking after a 5-1/2 hour meeting followed by a dinner, U.S. and Chinese officials both emphasized their desire for stable and predictable relations, but China was clear it regards Taiwan as the most important issue and greatest risk.
Making the first visit to China by a U.S. secretary of state in five years, Antony Blinken stressed “the need to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation” in his talks with Foreign Minister Qin Gang, the State Department said.
“Qin Gang pointed out that the Taiwan issue is the core of China’s core interests, the most important issue in Sino-U.S. relations, and the most prominent risk,” Chinese state media quoted Qin as having told the top U.S. diplomat.
Before the talks, U.S. officials saw little chance of any breakthrough on the long list of disputes between the world’s two largest economies, which range from trade and U.S. efforts to hold back China’s semiconductor industry to the status of self-governed Taiwan and Beijing’s human rights record.
Ties between the countries have deteriorated across the board, raising concern they might one day clash militarily over the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Blinken’s visit was closely followed by the rest of the world as any escalation between super powers could have worldwide repercussions on anything from financial markets to trade routes and practices and global supply chains.
Particularly alarming for China’s neighbours has been Beijing’s reluctance to engage in regular military-to-military talks with Washington.
In strikingly similar language, both sides said the talks were useful, with a U.S. spokesman describing them as “candid, substantive, and constructive” and Chinese state media characterizing them as “candid, in depth and constructive.”
However, they did not appear to agree on much beyond that Qin should visit Washington to continue the conversation at a time both sides found convenient but neither specified.
Both sides, however, emphasized the importance of making it easier for their citizens to visit, with Chinese state media saying they agreed to discuss increasing passenger flights and welcoming more students and business people.
UNCLEAR IF BLINKEN, XI TO MEET
Blinken, who postponed a February China trip after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over U.S. airspace, is the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
U.S. officials and analysts expect Blinken’s visit to pave the way for more bilateral meetings between Washington and Beijing in coming months, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. It could also set the stage for meetings between Xi and Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.
Qin greeted Blinken and his group at the door to a villa in the grounds of Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House, rather than inside the building as is customary.
The two made small talk as they walked in, Qin asking Blinken in English about his long trip from Washington. They then shook hands in front of a Chinese and an American flag.
Chinese assistant foreign minister Hua Chunying, who is attending the meeting, tweeted above a picture of Qin and Blinken shaking hands: “Hope this meeting can help steer China-U.S. relations back to what the two Presidents agreed upon in Bali.”
Biden and Xi held long-awaited first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 big economies in November on the Indonesian island of Bali, engaging in blunt talks over Taiwan and North Korea but also pledging more frequent communication.
During his stay through Monday, Blinken is also expected to meet with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping.
Briefing U.S. reporters after Sunday’s meetings, U.S. officials declined to say whether Blinken would definitely meet Xi nor when Qin might come to Washington.
“If there was one word I would use to describe the exchange, it would be ‘direct,’” said a senior State Department official. “Both sides expressed a desire to stabilize the relationship and prevent the competition between our two countries from veering into conflict.”
The Chinese foreign minister told Blinken China is committed to building a “stable, predictable, and constructive” relationship with the United States, state media reported.
U.S. officials have since last week played down the prospect of a major breakthrough during the trip, but said Blinken’s primary goal was to establish open and durable communication channels to ensure strategic rivalry between the two countries does not spiral into conflict.