U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Heads to China This Weekend on Mission to Salvage Broken Relations and Keep Communications Open

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China this weekend as part of a push to repair the rapidly crumbling ties between Beijing and Washington and keep lines of communications open, said the State Department on Wednesday.

Since President Joe Biden took office, Blinken has been the most senior U.S. official to visit China. Initially, his visit had been planned for early this year. Still, it was postponed indefinitely after the discovery, followed by the shootdown of what the U.S. said was a Chinese spy balloon over the United States.

However, since then, there have been lower-level engagements between China and the U.S. despite ongoing hostility and recriminations over both sides’ actions in the Taiwan Strait, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war against Ukraine, the South China Sea, and allegations from Washington that Beijing is attempting to boost its worldwide surveillance capabilities including in Cuba.

According to the State Department, Blinken had spoken with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Qin Gang, Tuesday night to confirm his trip, which will begin Sunday and was first reported by The Associated Press and other news organizations last week. Blinken is set to leave Washington late Friday.

“While in Beijing, Secretary Blinken will meet with senior PRC officials where he will discuss the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the U.S.-PRC relationship,” said the department, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “He will also raise bilateral issues of concern, global and regional matters, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges.”

Senior officials play down prospects of any significant breakthroughs

During the Secretary of State’s visit, two senior U.S. officials played down the prospects of any significant breakthroughs on the side array of issues between the countries. Instead, they said it aimed to restore a sense of normalcy and calm to high-level contacts.

“This is a really critical series of engagements that we’ll have in Beijing at a crucial time in the relationship that we again hope will, at a minimum, reduce the risk of miscalculation so that we do not veer into potential conflict,” said the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific, Daniel Kritenbrink.

“We’re not going to Beijing with the intent of having some sort of breakthrough or transformation in the way that we deal with one another,” said Kritenbrink. “We’re coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible.”

“We’re clear-eyed about the PRC,” Kurt Campbell, top Asia expert at the National Security Council, said. “We know efforts to shape or reform China over several decades have failed, and we expect China to be around and to be a major player on the world stage for the rest of our lifetimes.”

“As the competition continues, the PRC will take provocative steps — from the Taiwan Strait to Cuba — and we will push back,” said Campbell. “But intense competition requires intense diplomacy if we’re going to manage tensions. That is the only way to clear up misperceptions, to signal to communicate, and to work together where and when our interests align.”

Blinken will be the first secretary of state to visit China since 2018. According to officials with the U.S., he expects to meet with Qin on Sunday, along with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and then possibly Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

The trip comes amid many complications in China-U.S. relations, which have steadily declined over the past several years, beginning with industrial and trade espionage.

The concerns multiplied to include human rights concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims along with other minorities in the western region of China called Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as increasing Chinese aggressiveness toward Taiwan and continued to escalate over questions over the origin over the Covid-19 virus.

Blinken’s visit comes from a meeting in Bali last year between Biden and Xi, who agreed that the world’s two largest economies must take precautions and remain in contact to ensure no miscalculations in their global rivalry could lead to conflict. The trip came one day within, happening in February but was delayed due to the spy balloon incident. Beijing insists the craft was a weather balloon that accidentally strayed off course.