U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and top diplomat Wang Yi in Beijing on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to cool U.S.-China tensions that have overshadowed geopolitics in recent months.
The trip by Blinken makes him the highest-level American official to visit China since Joe Biden became U.S. president and the first U.S. secretary of state to make the trip in nearly five years.
Blinken’s original travel plans for February were disrupted by news of an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying over U.S. airspace. The U.S. ultimately shot down the alleged spy balloon, and tensions between the world’s two largest economies have since remained tense. Beijing insisted the balloon was an unnamed weather tracker that blew off course.
Blinken is set to have a working dinner later Sunday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse with Qin, who was previosuly China’s ambassador to the U.S. Some reports suggest there may also be a meeting with President Xi Jinping on Monday during Blinken’s two-day visit.
Expectations for a significant recovery in the U.S.-China relationship, especially as a result of Blinken’s trip, remain low. State department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement last week that Blinken will discuss the importance of maintaining open lines of communication and will “raise bilateral issues of concern, global and regional matters, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges.”
At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue event in Singapore earlier this month, the U.S. defense chief and his Chinese counterpart didn’t have a formal meeting. And more broadly, international travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic limited contact between the U.S. and Chinese governments.
In August, a controversial visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, fueled Beijing’s ire. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory, with no right to conduct diplomatic relations on its own. The U.S. recognizes Beijing as the sole legal government of China, while maintaining unofficial relations with the island, a democratically self-governed region.
Biden’s visit to Beijing could also possibly pave the way for a November meeting between Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi — their first since Bali in November, a day before a G-20 summit kicked off.
In late May, the U.S. commerce secretary and her Chinese counterpart met in Washington, D.C. And U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is also expected to visit China at an unspecified time.
China’s new ambassador to the U.S., Xie Feng, arrived in the U.S. in late May after a period of about six months with no one in that position. Biden said around the same time that he expected U.S.-China tensions would “begin to thaw very shortly.”
A potential opportunity for Biden and Xi to meet again would be in November, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit that’s set to be held in San Francisco.