The United States has confirmed that top diplomat Anthony Blinken will visit China this week, a long-awaited visit that was postponed in February amid growing tensions between the two superpowers.
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that Blinken will visit China from June 16 to 21, becoming the highest-level Biden administration to visit China, and will also visit London.
Binken will meet with senior Chinese officials in Beijing to discuss the “importance of maintaining open lines of communication” between the United States and China, the statement said. It did not specify which officials.
The top U.S. diplomat “will also raise issues of bilateral concern, global and regional affairs, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges,” the brief statement said.
U.S. officials were quick to temper expectations.
“We didn’t go to Beijing to have some sort of breakthrough or shift in the way we get along,” Daniel Krittenbrink, the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia, told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.
“We came to Beijing with realism, confidence and a genuine desire to manage our game in the most responsible way possible,” Kritenbrink said.
On the same conference call, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said Blinken would focus on advancing the “overarching goal” of his agenda but was not seeking “a long list of deliverables.”
Beyond these goals will be better military communications, which has proven to be an area of particular focus recently.
“I believe Secretary Blinken will strongly argue that these lines of communication are necessary,” Campbell told reporters. “They are the way mature, powerful militaries interact, and the risk of avoiding these critical communication channels is too high.”
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement that Blinken spoke by phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of “maintaining open lines of communication to manage responsibly” the relationship.
Blinken also “made clear that the United States will continue to use diplomatic engagement to raise areas of concern and potential areas of cooperation,” the statement said.
China took a more confrontational tone in the readout of the call with Blinken, saying that Qin had warned that relations between the two countries had faced “new difficulties and challenges” since the beginning of the year.
According to China’s foreign ministry, “whose responsibility is at a glance is clear,” Qin said.
“China always views and handles Sino-U.S. relations in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation proposed by President Xi Jinping,” he added.
Tensions between the two countries — involving trade, espionage, a military presence in the Indo-Pacific, the war in Ukraine and the future of self-governing Taiwan — were on full display when Blinken postponed a planned trip to China in February.
The delay comes amid controversy over U.S. allegations that a Chinese spy balloon floated over the continental United States. More recently, U.S. officials, including Blinken, have grudgingly acknowledged that China has operated a spy facility in Cuba for years, escalating it in 2019. US media had previously reported on the spy base.
Discourse on Taiwan has been heating up, with Biden saying several times last year that the United States would defend the islands that Beijing claims as its own territory if mainland China invaded. For years, the U.S. has maintained an official policy of “strategic ambiguity” that provides significant military support to Taiwan without explicitly acknowledging or promising assistance in the event of a Chinese attack.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy accused the Chinese navy of conducting “unsafe” maneuvers near a U.S. destroyer in the Taiwan Strait. Officials described the incident as one of several possible accidents and escalations in recent times, including an incident in May when a Chinese fighter jet flew close in front of a U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea. The US called the move “unnecessarily aggressive”, while China blamed it on US “provocation”. Officials said the incidents underscored the need for greater communication.
The U.S. has also sought to strengthen ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific region, including through the informal quadrilateral alliance of the U.S., Australia, India and Japan. It has also signed a new security agreement with the US and UK called AUKUS, which aims to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
Trade relations have also been acrimonious in recent years, with Biden maintaining a series of aggressive tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration has also imposed export controls on some key advanced technologies, such as semiconductors and the tools to make them, while encouraging allies to do the same and seeking to shift key supply chains away from China.
For its part, Beijing often accuses Washington of a dangerous “Cold War” mentality.
Still, the two countries have made some efforts to keep tensions under control in recent months. They are also seeking cooperation in certain areas, notably climate change.
Last month, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, held a wide-ranging closed-door meeting in Vienna with the top Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi.
The United States called the talks “candid, substantive and constructive”.
The Chinese embassy in Washington said the talks focused on “removing obstacles in Sino-U.S. relations and stabilizing relations between the two countries so that they do not deteriorate.”
Blinken had met with Yi during the Munich Security Conference in February.