The State Department announced on Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken planned to leave on a visit to Beijing on Friday to stress to Chinese officials « the importance of keeping lines of communication open to responsibly handle » relations between the two nations.
Mr. Blinken also plans to « raise bilateral issues of concern, global and regional issues, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges, » the State Department said.
The trip is one Mr. Blinken had to reschedule after canceling a planned visit on the day of his departure in early February when a Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States caused a public and political uproar. He plans to meet with officials for two days in Beijing before flying to London for a conference focused on rebuilding Ukraine.
Why it matters: The United States and China want to maintain high-level diplomacy despite tensions.
This would be Mr. Blinken’s first trip to China as Secretary of State. Chinese and US officials are still considering whether he will meet with Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
Both governments hope the visit will lead to a series of trips by senior US officials to China during the summer. Potential visitors include Janet L. Yellen, the treasury secretary; Gina M. Raimondo, secretary of commerce; and John Kerry, Special Envoy for Climate.
The visits could pave the way for a trip by Mr. Xi to San Francisco in November for a summit of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group of Nations that would include President Biden.
The two governments see high-level diplomacy as a potential anchor in a period of rising tensions that has lasted for years. Under Xi, who took power in 2012, China has taken assertive action in surrounding territories and sought to exert greater economic and diplomatic influence, sometimes coercively, around the world. Mr. Biden has continued the political direction of the Trump administration and seeks to compete with China using military, economic, diplomatic, technological and intelligence means.
« Now is the very time for intense diplomacy, » Kurt M. Campbell, the top Asian policy official at the White House, said in a telephone briefing with reporters Wednesday. « This is not a strategic shift or anything new to American politics. »
Context: China sees US policy as an effort to limit its power.
Mr. Campbell listed ways the Biden administration has achieved a level of coordination on policies to limit what US officials call aggressive behavior by China. The United States has persuaded European allies to speak more about areas of tension with China and has strengthened military alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, including with Australia, Japan and the Philippines.
Chinese officials oppose these moves and say the United States is trying to encircle their country. The Chinese government claims the entire expanse of the South China Sea as its territory, as well as Taiwan, a de facto independent island. The US Navy regularly sends warships and aircraft through those areas to maintain freedom of navigation and transit, and there have recently been hang up calls.
Chinese officials also condemn attempts by the United States and its allies to try to « de-risk » their economies, which means trying to sever some trade ties where there are national security concerns. The most glaring example is the Biden administration’s effort to stymie China’s semiconductor industry by banning the export of some chips and tools to the country.
What happens next: Diplomats talk about conflict and cooperation.
“We are coming to Beijing with a realistic and confident approach and a sincere desire to handle our competition as responsibly as possible,” Daniel J. Kritenbrink, the top East Asian official at the State Department, said in the telephone briefing. . “We hope, at the very least, to achieve this. And we also hope, of course, to make progress on a number of concrete issues. »