US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday for the highest-level visit by a US diplomat in nearly five years in a bid to ease bilateral tensions.
While no one expects major progress as there are so many areas of friction, the idea remains to initiate a diplomatic thaw and maintain a dialogue to “responsibly manage the Sino-American relationship”, according to the department. of state.
Because time is running out. Next year will be an election deadline in both the United States and Taiwan, which China considers one of its provinces that it must reunite, by force if necessary.
And a trifle can turn things around: thus, the visit of the head of the American diplomacy was initially planned for February, in the wake of the meeting, last November, between the American president, Joe Biden, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Indonesia.
But it was canceled at the last minute. In question: the overflight of American territory by a Chinese balloon, accused by Washington of being a “spy” aircraft, while Beijing assured that it was a meteorological machine having deviated from its trajectory.
“Challenge of the Century”
Speaking in Washington before his departure, Antony Blinken wanted to be moderately optimistic.
This two-day trip should “open direct lines of communication so that our two countries can manage our relationship responsibly, including by addressing certain challenges and misperceptions and to avoid miscalculations”, he said. -he declares.
“Intense competition requires continued diplomacy to ensure it does not turn confrontational or conflict,” he added, as “the world expects the United States and China cooperate”.
Mr Blinken was speaking at a press conference alongside his Singaporean counterpart, Vivian Balakrishnan.
The latter described the Sino-American relationship as the “challenge of the century”: “the rest of the world will be watching you. We hope, and I think, that you will be able to manage your differences.
Main point of friction between the two powers: Taiwan. Beijing carried out historic military maneuvers there in August, in retaliation for the visit to the island of Nancy Pelosi, then leader of the House of Representatives, as part of an Asian tour.
Ahead of Blinken’s visit, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said the United States should “respect China’s core concerns” and work with Beijing.
“The United States must abandon the illusion of dealing with China ‘from a position of strength’. China and the United States should develop relations based on mutual respect and equality, respecting their differences,” he said.
“Start a dialogue”
Mr. Blinken’s visit is the first by a US Secretary of State to China since the October 2018 trip of his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who was then the mastermind of the strategy of confrontation with Beijing in recent years. years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Biden administration has since maintained this hard line, going even further in some areas, including through the imposition of export controls to limit Beijing’s purchase and manufacture of high-end chips “used in applications military”.
But she wants to cooperate with China on key issues such as the climate. Mr. Blinken’s visit also comes as part of China is experiencing a heat wave, with a new temperature record for mid-June crossed Friday in Beijing, at 39.4°C.
For Danny Russel, a former senior US State Department official, each side has a stake in this visit: China hopes to avoid new US restrictions on technology and any new support for Taiwan. The United States, on the other hand, wishes to prevent any incident likely to lead to a military confrontation.
“Mr. Blinken’s brief visit will not solve any of the big problems in the US-China relationship, or even necessarily the small problems. Nor will it prevent the two parties from pursuing their competitive agendas,” said Mr. Russel, now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York.
“But his visit may well rekindle a much-needed face-to-face dialogue and send a signal that the two countries are moving from angry rhetoric at the media to more sober talks. behind closed doors “.