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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Visit to China: A Critical Step towards Repairing Fractured Communications

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday, marking the first visit by a top American diplomat to China in five years.[0] Blinken’s visit comes as the world’s two largest economies attempt to ease tensions following a particularly tense year, with the hope of paving the way for future bilateral meetings and a potential summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this year.

Blinken is expected to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang or top diplomat Wang Yi, with discussions likely to focus on issues such as Taiwan, human rights in Xinjiang, trade, and the illegal flow of fentanyl from China to the US.[1] Aides to Blinken have stated that the issue of China’s manufacture of precursor chemicals used in the production of drugs will also feature prominently in discussions, as the US seeks China’s help in curbing the opioid epidemic that has driven more than two-thirds of 100,000 American overdose deaths in each of the past two years.[2]

However, the trip may be overshadowed by recent revelations about China’s espionage operations against the US, with a Biden administration official revealing last week that China has been spying on the US from a base in Cuba.[3] Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin dismissed the allegation as “slander and smears”.[3]

Behind closed doors, Qin told Blinken that relations between the US and China “are at the lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations”, according to state-run broadcaster CCTV.[4] Qin also warned against US interference in issues surrounding Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its own and has described as “the core of China's core interests” and “the most prominent risk” in the China-US relationship.[5] The Chinese side urged the US to abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiqués, and to truly deliver on its commitment of not supporting “Taiwan independence.”[6]

Despite the strained bilateral ties, Blinken’s visit helps pave the way for additional meetings and sets the stage for meetings between Xi and Biden at multilateral summits later in the year. There is speculation that their presence at the APEC summit in San Francisco in November could provide the opportunity for a sideline meeting, but substantive progress on contentious bilateral issues will need to be made long before then.[3]

The nations with the world's two largest economies have been at odds over not just Taiwan but a range of other issues, including trade, US efforts to hold back China's semiconductor industry, and Beijing's human rights track record, among others.[1] The relationship between the nations has worsened overall, leading to worries that a military conflict could arise in the future due to the disputed ownership of Taiwan, which China asserts belongs to them.[7]

In conclusion, Blinken’s visit to China serves as a critical step towards repairing fractured US-China communications and lays the groundwork for future discussions and potential summits between the two nations’ leaders.[8] However, the issues at hand are complex and numerous, and substantive progress on contentious issues will need to be made to pave the way for a more stable and cooperative bilateral relationship.

0. “Blinken lands in Beijing for high-stakes diplomacy after spy balloon saga” CNBC, 16 Jun. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/16/china-blinken-to-beijing-for-high-stakes-diplomacy-after-spy-balloon-saga.html

1. “China, U.S. agree to keep up dialogue, Qin invited to Washington” Kyodo News Plus, 18 Jun. 2023, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2023/06/a6164888931e-china-us-top-diplomats-to-meet-discuss-ways-to-prevent-conflict.html

2. “Blinken will seek China’s cooperation in curbing fentanyl at high-stakes visit” The Guardian US, 18 Jun. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/18/antony-blinken-china-visit

3. “Beijing preps sharp, cold shoulder for Blinken visit” POLITICO, 16 Jun. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/06/16/blinkens-beijing-trip-tests-chinas-appetite-for-a-diplomatic-thaw-00102495

4. “Blinken may meet Xi during final day of talks in Beijing” CNA, 19 Jun. 2023, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/world/blinken-may-meet-xi-during-final-day-talks-beijing-3571276

5. “Blinken meets China’s top diplomat in final day of high stakes visit to Beijing” CNN, 19 Jun. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/18/china/blinken-china-visit-wang-yi-meeting-intl-hnk/index.html

6. “Chinese FM holds talks with U.S. secretary of state” Xinhua, 18 Jun. 2023, https://english.news.cn/20230619/c22737da6a5e46b7948682b5560cd5e7/c.html

7. “Blinken lands in China on rare trip with hopes low for any breakthrough” The Jerusalem Post, 18 Jun. 2023, https://www.jpost.com/international/article-746676

8. “As Beijing’s intelligence capabilities grow, spying becomes an increasing flashpoint in US-China ties” CNN, 15 Jun. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/15/china/china-us-spying-diplomacy-intl-hnk/index.html