The United States and China have expressed commitment to stabilize their worsening ties during a critical visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.
It remains to be seen whether the two countries can resolve their most important disagreements, many of which have international financial, security and stability implications.
Apart from a willingness to talk, there was little sign that either were few indications is prepared to show flexibility on issues ranging from trade, to Taiwan, to human rights conditions in China and Hong Kong, to Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea, to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
At the meeting with Blinken, Xi pronounced himself pleased with the outcome of Blinken’s earlier meetings with two top Chinese diplomats, and said the two countries had agreed to resume a program of understandings that he and President Joe Biden agreed to at a meeting in Bali last year.
“The Chinese side has made our decision clear, and the two sides have agreed to follow through the common understandings President Biden and I had reached in Bali,” Xi pointed out.
That agenda had been thrown into jeopardy in recent months, notably after the U.S. shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon over its airspace in February, and amid escalated military activity in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Combined with disputes over human rights, trade and opiate production, the list of problem areas is daunting.
But Xi suggested the worst could be over.
“The two sides have also made progress and reached agreement on some specific issues,” Xi said without elaborating, according to a transcript of the remarks released by the State Department. “This is very good.”
“I hope that through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-U.S. relations,” Xi said.
In his remarks to Xi during the 35-minute session at the Great Hall of the People, which was not announced until an hour before it started, Blinken remarked “the United States and China have an obligation and responsibility to manage our relationship.”
“The United States is committed to doing that,” Blinken said. “It’s in the interest of the United States, in the interests of China, and in the interest of the world.”
Blinken described his earlier meeting with senior Chinese officials as “candid and constructive.”
Despite his presence in China, Blinken and other U.S. officials had played down the prospects for any significant breakthroughs on the most vexing issues facing the planet’s two largest economies.
Instead, the officials have underscored the importance of the two countries establishing and maintaining better lines of communication.
Blinken is the highest-level U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office, and the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years. His visit is expected to usher in a new round of visits by senior U.S. and Chinese officials, possibly including a meeting between Xi and Biden in the coming months.
Blinken met earlier Monday with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi for about three hours, according to a U.S. official.
China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry wrote in a statement that Blinken’s visit “coincides with a critical juncture in China-U.S. relations, and it is necessary to make a choice between dialogue or confrontation, cooperation or conflict,” He also alleged that the “U.S. side’s erroneous perception of China, leading to incorrect policies towards China” for the current “low point” in relations.