The administration describes Blinken’s trip as part of a long-term effort to cool bilateral grievances that has effectively frozen high-level diplomatic dialogue for nearly five months.
« This is not about a trip and a conversation, » the senior State Department official said. Blinken will use his meetings in Beijing « to rid China of some of the misperceptions it has about what we are trying to do, even though we are also very clear about our intent when it comes to defending our interests and trying to advance the our values. »
US officials say Blinken’s agenda will include tensions over TaiwanUS citizens wrongfully imprisoned in China e Beijing’s alignment with Russia’s war against Ukraine. Yet « some sort of breakthrough or transformation in the way we deal with each other » is unlikely, Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs he told reporters Wednesday.
Blinken will also highlight US economic policy goals towards China. “We are very determined to reduce the risks…. We are not talking about decoupling. We are not trying to contain China. We are not trying to keep him financially,” the State Department official said.
Chinese officials attend those meetings reiterating a narrative of China as a victim of US efforts of repression and containment.
The United States should « stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and undermining China’s sovereign security and development interests in the name of competition, » Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said in a reading of his phone call with Blinken on Wednesday. blink summary of a sentence of that call focused on avoiding « miscalculations and conflicts ».
Beijing is not toning down that combative rhetoric. Successful dialogue with China requires that the United States « give up the illusion of dealing with China from a position of strength, » said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. Friday in reference to Blinken’s journey.
President Joe Biden last month predicted a « thaw » in US-China relations. Within days, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao had flown to the United States for meetings with the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo AND US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. But Beijing’s rejection of a request by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet his counterpart Li Shangfu at the Shangri La Dialogue Defense Summit in Singapore earlier this month suggested that bilateral ties remained tenuous outside the economic sphere.
« It seems the script has changed: It seems Beijing is doing a favor by simply allowing Blinken to leave, » said Ivan Kanapathy, former director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the National Security Council. “Beijing is accepting a visit from Blinken as a step towards involvement [Treasury Secretary Janet] Yellen, whom they consider more supportive of their priorities and interests, » Kanapathy said.
The administration is dismissing this perception. « We are approaching this visit from a position of strength and confidence, » said the senior State Department official.
When asked about Blinken’s planned visit last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: « Communication should not be done for the sake of communication…the United States must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop harming China’s interests. »
And now Blinken’s trip may be overshadowed by another revelation about China’s spy operations against the United States. A Biden administration official revealed last week that China has been spying on the United States for years from a base in Cuba. This allegation is « slander and libel, » said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday.
Some GOP lawmakers are already arguing that Blinken’s trip actually rewards Beijing for bad behavior. Blinken’s outreach reflects « a misguided desire to re-engage » that could « encourage CCP aggression, » said Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on China. Blinken’s trip symbolizes the « continued weakness of the Biden administration in the face of PRC aggression, » said Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Others on Capitol Hill warn that abandoning efforts to reduce tensions with Beijing could backfire. The current communications deficit « could mean we’re one miscalculation or misunderstanding away from catastrophe, » said Rep. Ritchie Torres (DN.Y.), a member of the House Select Committee on China.
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), Biden co-chair Commission to combat trafficking in synthetic opiates he said the Blinken meetings were crucial to resuming cooperation in the fight against fentanyl trafficking. Americans continue to « die in record numbers from fentanyl from precursors supplied by China, » he said. Much of the precursor chemicals used by Mexican drug cartels to make fentanyl comes from China.
And the transactional approach might just lay the groundwork for a long-term improvement in ties.
A series of senior US officials meeting with their counterparts in Beijing in the coming months can « generate processes that will hopefully break down mistrust and create the conditions for productive and cooperative engagements in the future, » said Nirav Patel, who is was deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration.
And it could pave the way for a long-awaited summit between Biden and Xi later this year. It is hypothesized that their presence a the APEC summit in San Francisco in November could provide an opportunity for a side meeting, but neither Washington nor Beijing has publicly disclosed any preparatory discussions for such a meeting. But the constraints of the US political calendar require substantial progress on controversial bilateral issues well before November.
« We have a six-month window, » said Zack Cooper, former assistant deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism at the National Security Council, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
« As we get into December and January, between the election in Taiwan and the primary season in Washington, it’s going to be very difficult to make progress or maybe even have any substantive meetings, » Cooper said.