Antony Blinken's China visit to focus on 'avoiding conflict' and finding shared goals

US Secretary of State holds talks with Foreign Minister Qin Gang at start of two-day visit

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Leah Millis / AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held "candid, substantive, and constructive" talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing on Sunday, the US State Department said.

"The Secretary emphasised the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, adding that Mr Blinken invited Mr Qin to Washington to continue discussions.

Mr Blinken raised a number of issues of "concern, as well as opportunities" to explore cooperation on shared transnational issues with China where "interests align."

"The United States will always stand up for the interests and values of the American people and work with its allies and partners to advance our vision for a world that is free, open, and upholds the international rules-based order," said Mr Miller.

Chinese state media reported that Mr Qin also shared Beijing's concerns on its core interests including the Taiwan issue, describing it as the "most prominent risk" in Sino-US relations.

Mr Qin greeted Mr Blinken and his delegation 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, with Mr Qin asking Mr Blinken in English about his long trip from Washington. They then shook hands in front of a Chinese and an American flag.

Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing to ease strained US-China ties

Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing to ease strained US-China ties

After heading into a meeting room, neither official made comments in front of reporters who were briefly allowed in.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, who attended the meeting, posted on Twitter: "Hope this meeting can help steer China-US relations back to what the two Presidents agreed upon in Bali."

US President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping agreed to Mr Blinken’s trip at a G20 meeting last year on the Indonesian island.

Mr Blinken postponed the visit a day before he was supposed to leave for China, following the shooting down of a Chinese surveillance balloon over US territory.

He is scheduled to hold further talks with Mr Qin, as well as China's top diplomat Wang Yi, and possibly President Xi Jinping, on Monday.

Mr Blinken is the highest-level American official to visit China since Mr Biden took office in 2021, and the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years.

Prospects for any significant breakthrough on the most vexing issues facing the world’s two largest economies are slim, as ties have grown increasingly fraught in recent years.

Animosity and recriminations have escalated steadily over a series of disagreements that have implications for global security and stability.

The list of disagreements and potential conflict points is long, ranging from trade with Taiwan and Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea to Russia's war in Ukraine and human rights.

US officials have said Mr Blinken would raise each of these points, though neither side has shown any inclination to back down on their positions.

Shortly before leaving Washington, Mr Blinken emphasised the importance of the US and China establishing and maintaining better lines of communication. The US wants to make sure “that the competition we have with China doesn’t veer into conflict” due to avoidable misunderstandings, he said.

He said Mr Biden and Mr Xi had made commitments to improve communications “precisely so that we can make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible”.

Mr Xi has hinted at a willingness to reduce tensions, saying in a meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Friday that the US and China can co-operate to “benefit our two countries”.

“I believe that the foundation of Sino-US relations lies in the people,” Mr Xi said. “Under the current world situation we can carry out various activities that benefit our two countries, the people of our countries and the entire human race.”

Mr Biden told White House reporters on Saturday that he was “hoping that over the next several months, I'll be meeting with Xi again and talking about legitimate differences we have, but also how … to get along”.

Opportunities could come at a Group of 20 leaders' gathering in September in New Delhi and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in November, hosted by the US in San Francisco.

Since the cancellation of Mr Blinken's trip in February, there have been some high-level engagements. CIA chief William Burns travelled to China in May, while China’s commerce minister travelled to the US. Mr Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met Mr Wang in Vienna in May.

But those have been punctuated by bursts of angry rhetoric from both sides over the Taiwan Strait, their broader intentions in the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war against Ukraine and Washington's allegations that Beijing is attempting to boost its worldwide surveillance capabilities, including in Cuba.

Earlier this month, China’s Defence Minister rebuffed a request from US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore, a sign of continuing discontent.

Mr Austin said on Friday he was confident that he and his Chinese counterpart would meet “at some point in time, but we’re not there yet”.

Underscoring the situation, China rejected a report by a US security firm that blamed Chinese-linked hackers for attacks on hundreds of public agencies, schools and other targets around the world, as “far-fetched and unprofessional”.

We’re coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible
Daniel Kritenbrink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs

A Chinese Foreign Ministry representative repeated accusations that Washington carries out hacking attacks and complained that the cybersecurity industry rarely reports on them.

That followed a similar retort earlier in the week when China said Mr Qin had in a phone call with Mr Blinken urged the US to respect “China’s core concerns” such as the issue of Taiwan’s self-rule, to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition”.

Meanwhile, the national security advisers of the US, Japan and the Philippines held their first joint talks on Friday and agreed to strengthen their defence co-operation, in part to counter China's growing influence and ambitions.

This coincides with the Biden administration signing an agreement with Australia and Britain to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, while China is moving rapidly to expand its diplomatic presence, especially in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific island nations, where it has opened or has plans to open at least five new embassies over the next year.

The submarine agreement is part of an 18-month-old nuclear partnership given the acronym Aukus – for Australia, the UK and the US.

With reporting from agencies.

Updated: June 19, 2023, 4:45 AM