December 6, 2023

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (left) and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (right) walk in front of a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on June 18, 2023.

Leah Millis | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and top diplomat Wang Yi in Beijing on Sunday, on a significant diplomatic mission to defuse U.S.-China tensions that have been clouded by geopolitics in recent months.

Blinken’s trip is the highest-level U.S. official to visit China since Biden took office as president of the United States, and is also the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit China in the past five years.

Blinken’s planned February trip was disrupted by news that an alleged Chinese spy balloon flew over U.S. airspace. The US finally shot down the so-called spy balloon, and tensions between the world’s two largest economies have been strained ever since. Beijing insisted the balloon was an unnamed weather tracker, but it went off course.

Blinken will have a working dinner later Sunday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse with Qin Shihuang, who was China’s ambassador to the United States, some reports indicate During Blinken’s two-day visit, there may also be a meeting with President Xi Jinping on Monday.

Expectations for a significant recovery in U.S.-China relations remain low, especially as a result of Blinken’s trip. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement last week that Blinken will discuss the importance of keeping lines of communication open and will “raise issues of bilateral concern, global and regional affairs, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges.”

There was no formal meeting between the U.S. and Chinese defense ministers at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue event in Singapore earlier this month. More broadly, international travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic have limited contact between the U.S. and Chinese governments.

A controversial visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August drew Beijing’s ire. Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory and has no right to establish diplomatic relations on its own. The United States recognizes Beijing as the sole legal government of China, while maintaining unofficial relations with the democratically self-governed island.

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Biden’s visit to Beijing could also pave the way for a meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November – their first since November in Bali, a day before the opening of the Group of 20 summit.

In late May, the U.S. and Chinese commerce secretaries met in Washington, D.C., and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is also expected to visit China at an unspecified time.

China’s new ambassador to the United States, Xie Feng, arrived in the United States in late May after being unoccupied for about six months. Around the same time, Biden said he expected U.S.-China tensions to “begin to ease soon.”

A potential chance for Biden and Xi to meet again is in November, during the APEC leaders’ summit scheduled for San Francisco.

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