The United States on Wednesday played down expectations of any breakthrough from the first trip by a U.S. Secretary of State to China in five years, after a tense call with China’s foreign minister ahead of Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing next week.
Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang urged the United States to stop meddling in its affairs and harming its security in a call with Blinken on Wednesday, and said it should respect China’s core concerns to arrest declining relations between the superpowers, China’s foreign ministry said.
U.S. officials said Blinken would push to establish open communication channels to ensure competition with the Chinese does not spiral into conflict.
“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,” Daniel Kritenbrink, the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia, told reporters in a briefing call.
“We’re coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible,” he said.
Kritenbrink said he expected Blinken would “reiterate America’s abiding interest in the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and also discuss the situation in Ukraine.
Blinken’s long-delayed visit is aimed at stabilizing relations between the world’s two largest economies and strategic rivals. Ties have deteriorated across the board and raised concerns they might one day clash militarily over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own,
The two sides are also at odds over trade, U.S. efforts to hold back China’s semiconductor industry and human rights issues.
Having postponed a February trip after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over U.S. airspace, Blinken is set to become the highest-ranking U.S. government official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
A primary objective for Blinken will be “candid, direct and constructive” discussions with China, Kritenbrink said but cautioned about the prospect of progress.
“There will be a substantive and productive agenda that we’ll have before us, but, again, the objective is to focus on those top-line goals, not necessarily to produce a long list of deliverables,” he said.
One alarming aspect of the sour ties has been Beijing’s reluctance to have an open military-to-military dialogue with Washington, despite repeated U.S. attempts.
White House Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said in the same call that Washington has an interest in setting up crisis communication mechanisms to reduce conflict risk.
“I believe Secretary Blinken will advocate strongly that these lines of communication are necessary. They are how mature, strong militaries interact and the stakes are just too high to avoid these critical lines of communication,” he said.
Blinken is scheduled to travel to China and Britain between June 16 and June 21, the State Department said. Chinese state media said he was due to visit China on June 18-19.
The two sides did not say which Chinese officials Blinken would meet.
Visits by U.S. officials and lawmakers to Taiwan have magnified U.S.-China tensions.
“Since the beginning of the year, Sino-U.S. relations have encountered new difficulties and challenges, and the responsibility is clear,” Qin told Blinken, according to the Chinese foreign ministry’s readout.
The United States should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition,” Qin added.