President Biden met with China’s top diplomat on Friday to prepare for Biden’s scheduled meeting with President Xi Jinping next month as relations remain tense between Washington and Beijing.
Amid friendly talk about cooperation between the United States and China, official Wang Yi concluded his visit to Washington. During the three-day trip, the diplomat also met twice with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and with Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. American officials said that the meetings lasted about ten hours.
Mr. Wang’s trip was a reminder that even as the Biden administration scrambles to manage a new crisis in the Middle East, its top officials remain focused on their top long-term foreign policy priority: managing relations with China.
These relations have recently been characterized by tensions over issues such as Chinese espionage and US restrictions on technology exports to China. They were severely tested last February, when a Chinese spy balloon crossed over the United States before being shot down by a US fighter jet off the coast of North Carolina.
But Biden administration officials say cooperation with China remains vital on issues such as climate change and artificial intelligence, and that dialogue could reduce the risk of conflict over China’s territorial claim to the democratic island of Taiwan.
To that end, a procession of senior American officials has traveled to China in recent months, including Mr. Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Mr. Sullivan had met with Mr. Wang twice previously in recent months.
A brief statement issued by the White House on Friday emphasized the cooperation topics. She said Mr. Biden told Mr. Wang that their countries “need to responsibly manage the competition in the relationship and maintain open lines of communication” and “work together to confront global challenges.”
It wasn’t all talk about cooperation: A senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, said Mr. Blinken pressed Mr. Wang on matters including human rights in China’s Xinjiang province and Chinese military activity in the region. The South China Sea, the East China Sea, and Americans detained in China.
The officials also had “frank, constructive and substantive discussions” on issues such as the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and Ukraine and Taiwan, a summary of Mr. Sullivan’s three-hour meeting said.
The meetings come just two weeks before the expected meeting between Biden and Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in mid-November. The two men last met in November last year on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
Ryan Haass, the former National Security Council director for China in the Obama White House, said Mr. Wang’s visit would help shape the agenda of an expected meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi next month.
“Restoring diplomatic engagement will reduce the risks of miscalculation, build space to manage stress in the relationship, and ensure that Xi has to confront America’s articulation of its goals and priorities when he forms his views about America’s intentions toward the relationship,” Mr. Haass said. He said.
Although American officials say they are preparing for a meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden, Beijing has not confirmed Mr. Xi’s attendance at the November summit — perhaps in part to avoid embarrassment if another explosion in U.S.-China relations leads to a cancellation. Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, said:
Chinese officials were furious when Blinken canceled a planned visit to Beijing at the last minute after the spy balloon sparked national outrage. (Mr. Biden said the balloon “went off course” and that Mr. Xi was unaware of its flight path. Mr. Blinken eventually made the flight in June.)
Despite this timidity, Ms. Sun said Mr. Xi may be eager to hold the meeting, hoping to prove to his people that he is a world leader of the highest standing — even if Beijing has low expectations for resolving conflicts such as the United States imposing restrictions on nuclear power. And export semiconductor chips to China, to help maintain America’s superiority in artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.
For their part, Biden officials hope for a stable relationship before the 2024 election. They are also eager to help Beijing limit the export of chemicals used to make fentanyl to Mexico and in restricting Russia’s prosecution of the war in Ukraine, among other issues.
Mr. Wang did not take questions from reporters during his visit. In brief remarks before his meeting with Mr. Blinken, he said the goal of his talks in Washington was to “stabilize China-US relations.”
He seemed to suggest that the relationship had been disrupted by outspoken China hawks, saying that “from time to time there will be some contradictory voices.”
He added that when this happens, “China handles the matter calmly because we see that what is right and what is wrong is not determined by who has the strongest arm or the loudest voice.”
Mr. Wang was appointed director of the Central Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China in January. His title was expanded in July to include Foreign Minister, following the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor in the position, Chen Gang, who held the position for only a few months before being removed without explanation.
Despite the flurry of high-level diplomacy, Ms. Sun said relations between the United States and China remain fraught. “The question is how long this will last. “This is not called an improvement in relations,” she added. “The word you hear is stability, you don’t hear the word ‘improvement’ from anyone.”
This view was echoed by the Global Times, the national newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party, in an article condition Regarding Mr. Wang’s trip, he said that although “the current interactions can be seen as a positive signal for China-US relations, US policy towards China remains focused on ‘containment and suppression.'”
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”