Blinken meets Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on high-stakes diplomatic trip to Beijing

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) walks with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang (R) ahead of a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on June 18, 2023.

Leah Millis | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang 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 had “candid, substantive, and constructive talks” with Qin, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement Sunday. He raised concerns as well as “opportunities to explore cooperation,” and he emphasized the importance of open communication, according to the statement.

“The Secretary made clear that 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,” the spokesperson said.

Blinken invited Qin to the U.S. to continue discussions, and the spokesperson said the pair agreed to schedule a visit at a “mutually suitable time.” Blinken will continue to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang shake hands ahead of a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on June 18, 2023. 

Leah Millis | AFP | Getty Images

His 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 was set to have a working dinner later Sunday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse with Qin, who was previously 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.

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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. 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.

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