U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarked on a rare trip to Beijing on Sunday, marking the first visit by a high-ranking American diplomat to China in five years.
The visit takes place against the backdrop of strained bilateral relations and a bleak outlook for resolving the numerous disputes between the world’s two largest economies.
Originally scheduled for February but postponed due to a suspected Chinese spy balloon incident in U.S. airspace, Blinken’s visit carries significance as the highest-level engagement between the United States and China since President Joe Biden assumed office in January 2021.
Blinken was received by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing. In an unconventional move, Qin greeted Blinken at the door of a villa within the guest house grounds rather than inside the building as is customary.
The two engaged in small talk, with Qin asking Blinken about his journey from Washington. They then shook hands in front of Chinese and American flags.
Although both Blinken and Qin refrained from making public statements in the presence of reporters, the meeting holds hope for steering China-U.S. relations back to the principles agreed upon by the two presidents during their meeting in Bali.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying expressed optimism on Twitter, accompanied by a picture of the handshake between Qin and Blinken.
While U.S. officials have tempered expectations of significant breakthroughs during this visit, Blinken’s primary objective is to establish open and sustainable communication channels to prevent the strategic rivalry between the two countries from escalating into conflict.
Analysts and officials anticipate that this visit will lay the groundwork for future bilateral meetings, including potential trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, as well as possible meetings between President Xi Jinping and President Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.
Concerns about potential military clashes and their global ramifications have grown as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated on various fronts.
Disagreements range from the status of Taiwan, trade disputes, and U.S. efforts to curb China’s semiconductor industry to Beijing’s human rights record.
Therefore, Blinken’s visit carries implications not only for the two superpowers but also for the rest of the world, affecting financial markets, trade routes, global supply chains, and other areas.
Recognizing the need for senior-level communication, Blinken’s trip aims to reduce the risk of miscalculation and halt the downward spiral in the relationship, according to a senior State Department official.
One major concern for China’s neighbors has been the lack of regular military-to-military talks between China and the United States.
During his visit, Blinken plans to focus on three main objectives: establishing crisis management mechanisms, promoting U.S. and allied interests, and discussing concerns directly with Chinese officials.
He also intends to address the issue of U.S. citizens detained in China on politically motivated charges. Additionally, discussions may touch upon increasing commercial flights between the two countries and curbing the flow of fentanyl precursors from China.
Although cautious about high expectations of success, U.S. officials acknowledge the current state of the bilateral relationship and emphasize the need for responsible management.
Blinken’s visit holds the potential to lay the foundation for constructive dialogue and engagement between the United States and China, a critical step toward mitigating tensions and fostering cooperation.