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Xi tells Blinken 'very good' that progress made on US-China ties

Bloomberg • 5 min read
Xi tells Blinken 'very good' that progress made on US-China ties
Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State. Photo: Bloomberg
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Chinese President Xi Jinping told Secretary of State Antony Blinken it was “very good” the US and China had made progress in steadying bilateral ties between the world’s two largest economies during his trip to Beijing.

“I hope that through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-US relations,” Xi told the US diplomat on Monday, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

“The two sides have also made progress and reached agreements on some specific issues. This is very good,” he said without elaborating, according to a transcript of the meeting published by the US State Department.

Blinken told the Chinese leader it was in the “interest of the world” to steady ties, and described conversations with high-level officials during his trip as “candid” and “productive.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying attended the meeting, along with other senior officials including US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

The positive tone emerging from Blinken’s high-stakes visit to Beijing will raise expectations relations between the two superpowers can reach a more stable footing, as US allies and some of China’s largest trading partners get caught in the cross-fire of ruptured ties.

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Blinken’s meeting with Xi also lays the groundwork for in-person Xi-Biden talks later this year. On Sunday, Qin accepted an invitation to visit Washington, the State Department said, after 7 1/2 hours of talks with Blinken that both sides described as “productive” and “candid.”

Henry Wang, founder of the Center for China and Globalization, said Blinken’s visit would be a catalyst for more bilateral interactions between the two nations. US President Joe Biden said Saturday he’s “hoping that over the next several months I’ll be meeting Xi again.”

“Blinken sets the stage for future interactions between different levels of government, the business community and academia and research,” Wang added. “He’s brought a period of stabilization, of easing tensions for at least the second half of the year.”

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Derailed Ties

US-China relations crashed to their lowest point in decades in February after an alleged Chinese spy balloon floated through US air space, causing Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing. Since then, the Biden administration has been working to restore ties with China to reduce the risk of a miscommunication igniting a conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has declined to meet with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin until Washington lifts sanctions against him. The US and Chinese militaries recently had two confrontations between naval vessels and jets in the region, which the Pentagon characterized as “dangerous,” highlighting the dangers of not talking.

Xi also has reasons to want to cool tensions. Beijing is facing an increasingly challenging geopolitical landscape, as the US blocks China’s access to high-tech chips to thwart its military progress and puts pressure on Xi to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Geopolitical strains are also deterring foreign investment as China’s economy faces domestic headwinds.

“The economy in China is not in great shape,” George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University’s China Centre, told Bloomberg TV. “He wants to appeal and be seen to be constructive to Global South partners.”

The most senior US official to visit China in five years, Blinken is making his trip at a tumultuous time, with the two sides sparring over everything from human rights and technology to trade and weapons sales to Taiwan.

On Sunday, China’s foreign minister told Blinken that Taiwan is “the core of the core interests” of China and “the most prominent risk” in China-US ties. China’s top diplomat Wang Yi added on Monday that there could be “no compromise” over the island, which Beijing considers a breakaway territory it must reclaim by force if necessary.

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Wang told Blinken during a three-hour meeting on Monday that his visit had come at a “critical” juncture in US-China ties, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

Fragile Ties

Blinken’s visit became one of the top ten trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Weibo after Xi’s comments on Monday afternoon, with related hashtags getting millions of views. Under photos of Xi shaking hands with Blinken, some users called for US-China relations to “return to the right track.”

That response was in contrast to the beginning of Blinken’s visit when Weibo users pointed out the US official was greeted by red lines on the tarmac rather than a red carpet, and Chinese state media gave his trip muted coverage.

While Xi did not specify what agreements Blinken had reached in China, there were already signs of progress on tangible matters from earlier meetings.

On Sunday, both sides said they’d discussed increasing flights between the two countries, many of which were scrapped during the coronavirus pandemic. They also agreed to encourage educational exchanges, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, a sign more student visas could be forthcoming.

Xi told Blinken that he believed the two nations could overcome their difficulties to find a way to get along based on mutual respect, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday. He added that China hopes to achieve a sound and steady relationship with the US.

Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said that while Xi’s comments were positive, it remained to be seen how the US side would interpret the two-day mission.

“Compared to March when Xi was lambasting the United States by name, the cordial tone can be considered positive,” said Thompson. “But how Xi defines ‘making progress’ and how the US defines it is likely very different.”

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