© Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, June 18, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool
By Humeyra Pamuk
BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet China’s top diplomat and perhaps its president on Monday, the final day of a rare visit to Beijing aimed at preventing the strategic rivals’ many disagreements from further deteriorating relations.
The first U.S. secretary of state to visit China in five years, Blinken held more than 7-1/2 hours of “candid” and “constructive” talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sunday, although they did not appear to make concrete progress on disputes that include Taiwan, trade, human rights and fentanyl.
Both expressed a desire to stabilize ties despite what one U.S. official called their “profound” differences, and agreed that Qin would visit Washington to continue the conversation, though no date was announced.
Blinken is to meet China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, on Monday, but all eyes will be on whether he also meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, an engagement sources familiar with the matter said was expected but yet to be confirmed by the State Department.
While both sides said Sunday’s talks were constructive, they seemed to agree on little beyond keeping the conversation going with an eventual meeting in Washington, and working to make it easier for their citizens to visit each other’s countries.
Speaking after a 5-1/2 hour meeting followed by a dinner, U.S. and Chinese officials both emphasized their desire for stable and predictable relations.
But China also made clear that Taiwan is the most important issue, and a potentially dangerous one.
“Qin Gang pointed out that the Taiwan issue is the core of China’s core interests, the most important issue in Sino-US relations, and the most prominent risk,” Chinese state media quoted Qin as having told the top U.S. diplomat.
Sino-U.S. ties have deteriorated across the board in recent years, raising concern the two might one day clash militarily over the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
Especially alarming for China’s neighbors has been Beijing’s reluctance to engage in regular military-to-military talks with Washington.
Making the first visit to China since U.S. President Joe Biden took office, Blinken stressed “the need to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation” in his talks with Qin, the State Department said.
Before the talks, U.S. officials saw little chance of any breakthrough on the many disputes between the world’s largest economies, which also include U.S. efforts to hold back China’s semiconductor industry and to stem the flow of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl and its precursor chemicals from China.
U.S. officials and analysts expect Blinken’s visit will pave the way for more bilateral meetings in coming months, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
It could also set the stage for talks between Xi and Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.