US, China see path to more stable ties in Blinken visit

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang agrees to visit Washington after 7.5 hours of talk with his American counterpart


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Antony Blinken meets with Qin Gang at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. — Reuters
Antony Blinken meets with Qin Gang at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. — Reuters

Published: Sun 18 Jun 2023, 9:31 PM

The United States and China agreed on Sunday to expand dialogue to try to bring relations back from historic lows, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken held what officials called candid talks on soaring tensions during a rare trip to Beijing.

The highest-ranking US visitor to Beijing in nearly five years, Blinken spoke to his Chinese counterpart for seven and a half hours — an hour more than expected — at an ornate state villa, including over a banquet dinner.

The two sides said Foreign Minister Qin Gang agreed to pay a return visit to Washington at a later date and that the two top diplomats would work together to expand flights between the world's two largest economies, which remain at a bare minimum since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Blinken stressed "the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation", State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, calling the talks "candid, substantive and constructive".

Blinken will hold a second day of meetings on Monday and address reporters before leaving. He and Qin made no comments on their first day as they shook hands at the state guesthouse before their respective flags in front of a painting of craggy mountains and wispy clouds.

Behind closed doors, Qin told Blinken that relations between the United States and China "are at the lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations", according to state-run broadcaster CCTV.

"This does not conform to the fundamental interests of the two peoples, nor does it meet the common expectations of the international community," Qin said during the talks at the ancient Diaoyutai gardens.

But he issued a warning on Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing, which has launched live-fire military drills twice near the island since August in anger over actions by top US lawmakers.

"The Taiwan issue is the core of China's core interests, the most important issue in China-US relations and the most prominent risk," Qin said.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the discussions went beyond the usual talking points, including on Taiwan.

"This was a real conversation," he said.

Blinken was originally scheduled to visit in February but abruptly scrapped his plans as the United States protested -- and later shot down -- what it said was a Chinese spy balloon flying over its soil.

US President Joe Biden played down the balloon episode as Blinken was heading to China, saying: "I don't think the leadership knew where it was and knew what was in it and knew what was going on."

"I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional," Biden told reporters Saturday.

Biden said he hoped to again meet President Xi Jinping after their lengthy and strikingly cordial meeting in November on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Bali, where they agreed on Blinken's visit.

"I'm hoping that, over the next several months, I'll be meeting with Xi again and talking about legitimate differences we have but also how there's areas we can get along," Biden said.

The two leaders are likely to attend the next G20 summit, in September in New Delhi, and Xi is invited to travel to San Francisco in November when the United States hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

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