Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping declared significant achievements since Blinken’s trip last month. « The two sides have made progress and reached common understandings on some specific issues, which is very good, » Xi said. Yet Xi has not provided details on these advances, and Chinese diplomats say they want more than happy speeches from top US officials. « Communication must also be effective – it shouldn’t be just for the sake of communication or just trying to address your own concerns while neglecting the concerns of the other side, » said Minister Jing Quan at the Chinese embassy in Washington.
Blinken and Yellen returned to Washington with the promise of high-level diplomatic contacts rather than tangible progress on burning US-China issues or detailed plans for next steps in the bilateral dialogue. “I don’t have anything specific about a future trial to announce,” Yellen he told reporters in Beijing on Sunday at the end of his visit.
GOP lawmakers say the Biden administration is running out of time. The flow of senior administration officials to Beijing constitutes « zombie engagement with the Communist Party of China — meanwhile the CCP’s evil behavior has gotten worse, not better, » said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on China.
Biden’s envoys have struggled to restore a measure of predictability to a relationship that plummeted to a 50-year low in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon incident in February. That incident affected a relationship already coagulated by tensions over trade, Beijing’s saber-rattling on Taiwan and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The Biden administration argues that face-to-face dialogue plays a role of its own, reducing mistrust and paving the way for conversations about difficult topics.
“None of this is solved, solved with a visit, a trip, a conversation. It’s a process,” Blinken he told reporters last month.
Such discussions – however vague – are important at a time when senior US military officials have warned that rising bilateral tensions are pushing the two countries towards a possible military conflict within the next four years. Kerry said on Thursday that diplomatic engagement with Beijing was necessary to avoid « the potential for mistakes, the potential for something to inadvertently pull us into open conflict. »
But Blinken’s meetings with Xi and other top Chinese officials have been hard to sell to Washington as a success.
The administration has called on China to take action to curb the role of Chinese chemical exporters in the opioid overdose epidemic. But Blinken’s Chinese hosts agreed only « to explore the creation of a working group or joint effort » to cut off the flow of Chinese precursor chemicals that Mexican cartels turn into fentanyl, Blinken he told reporters during his trip.
Even if Blinken he told his Chinese guests that one of the top priorities of the United States is to resolve cases of American citizens wrongfully detained or subject to exit bans in China, no releases occurred.
And while Blinken « repeatedly » raised the desire of the United States to resume high-level military communications, China continues to refuse to do so. That freezing – which extends to Beijing’s waste of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s requests to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, raises the risk of a potential military crisis in the Indo-Pacific.
Blinken’s contact with Beijing was « weak and desperate » and constituted « a pandering to the Communist Party of China, » said Rep. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.) said in a statement last month.
Yellen’s four days in Beijing last week yielded optimistic rhetoric, but no breakthroughs on issues troubling US-China trade relations. The Secretary of the Treasury he told reporters ahead of the trip which planned to discuss « China’s unfair economic practices … market access barriers for foreign companies and issues involving intellectual property. »
But Beijing has shown no movement on those fronts, in part because Yellen has made no concessions on ongoing US initiatives such as restrictions on outbound investment and restrictions on Chinese corporate access to US cloud computing services.
The answer inside an editorial by China’s state news agency Xinhua: « It is unproductive when the United States poses for dialogue and communication, while tightening the blockade and containment against China. »
That meant Yellen spent most of her time in Beijing « trying to reassure the Chinese of U.S. intentions » rather than brainstorming approaches to specific bilateral disputes, said Mary Lovely, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Although Yellen reiterated that the United States it’s not trying to decouple from the Chinese economy, the response from her Chinese guests was probably « Well, show me the money, » said Lovely.
Kerry hopes to have better luck in his meetings with his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, and other top Chinese officials next week. But Kerry is likely to make little headway in persuading Beijing to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power generation as it struggles to revive its faltering economy.
« I wouldn’t seek breakthroughs … the relationship between the two governments remains very challenging, » said David Sandalow, a former senior Department of Energy official during the Obama administration and founder of the US-China program at Columbia’s Center on Global University Energy Policy.
Kerry’s Potential Upside: US-China climate cooperation is essential to year-end success UN climate conference in Dubai. But Beijing has suspended a joint US-China working group on climate cooperation as part of a package of retaliation for then-spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. « It would be a substantial advance if Kerry and Xie could walk out of their meetings saying ‘we agree that the working group will meet x number of times from here to Dubai,' » said Joanna Lewis, an associate professor at Georgetown University and ed expert on Chinese climate policies.
Kerry’s travel plans reinvigorated GOP skepticism on Capitol Hill.
“Despite the sweet nonsense that CCP diplomats have muttered into climate envoy Kerry’s ear in Davos or at COP26, in 2022 China has begun construction of a coal-fired power plant six times as many as the rest of the world put together,” said Gallagher, chairman of the China commission. China’s environmental record makes it « enemy number one » on climate issues, rather than a partner, Gallagher said.
Others have argued that the climate focus is all wrong. « Countering China and their evil agenda should be the State Department’s top priority » rather than climate cooperation, he said Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Biden administration maintains that China’s status is the greatest in the world source of carbon emissions makes U.S. efforts to boost climate cooperation with Beijing inevitable. Refusing to do so « would be malpractice of the worst order – diplomatic and political, » Kerry said.
Democratic lawmakers are backing Biden’s approach, arguing that talk talks are how progress begins.
« I reject the notion that diplomacy is an act of weakness, » said Rep. Ritchie Torres (DN.Y.), member of the House Select Committee on China. “Communicating is what countries do, especially when the two countries are the most powerful in the world.”
And re-establishing regular and reliable high-level contacts between top officials may also help pave the way for a much-anticipated face-to-face meeting between Biden and Xi later this year.
Outreach by Blinken, Yellen and Kerry provides “an essential foundation for success Xi-Biden meeting at APEC in the fall and help prevent further deterioration of the relationship,” said Susan Shirk, former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration.