China and the United States agreed on Monday to stabilise their intense rivalry so it does not veer into conflict, following US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s much anticipated visit to Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed “progress” after shaking hands with Blinken on Monday, and US President Joe Biden said later relations between the two countries were on a better path.
“We’re on the right trail here,” Biden said of US-China relations.
Asked by reporters during a trip to California whether he felt progress had been made, he replied, “I don’t feel – you know, it’s been made.”
Biden said of Blinken: “He did a hell of a job.”
In one of the most significant US-China exchanges since Biden took office, it was not clear how the countries would overcome their differences.
The two sides agreed to continue diplomatic engagement, with more visits in the coming weeks and months. However, Blinken’s meetings with top Chinese officials failed to produce any major breakthrough.
The two sides appeared entrenched in their positions on everything from Taiwan to trade, including US actions toward China’s chip industry, human rights and Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, senior foreign ministry official Yang Tao said US sanctions were blocking progress on improving military-to-military communications.
Asked what specific progress the two sides had made, Yang said they had agreed to prevent a downward spiral in relations. The official added that Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang had accepted Blinken’s request to visit the United States.
Xi’s comments, and the diplomatic choreography of the visit, appeared to signal a will to make progress, analysts said.
“China’s messaging has been pretty positive,” said Wu Xinbo, a professor and director at the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
“China showed that it still hopes to work with the US to stabilize and improve relations. I think that while China is not optimistic about Sino-US relations, it has not given up hope either.”
‘Progress is hard’
Blinken said his meetings in Beijing, including talks with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and foreign minister Qin, had been “candid and constructive.”
At a news conference concluding his two-day trip to Beijing, the first by a US secretary of state since 2018, Blinken said Washington had achieved its objectives for the trip, including raising concerns directly, trying to set up channels for dialogue and exploring areas of cooperation.
But he said progress was not straightforward.
“The relationship was at a point of instability, and both sides recognized the need to work to stabilize it,” Blinken said before leaving China.
“But progress is hard. It takes time. And it’s not the product of one visit, one trip, one conversation. My hope and expectation is: We will have better communications, better engagement going forward.”
US officials hoped Blinken’s visit would pave the way for more bilateral meetings, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
There’s also hope that it would pave the way for a summit between Xi and Biden later in the year.
‘Do not support Taiwan independence’
Blinken said he talked to Chinese officials about the country’s “provocative actions” in the Taiwan Strait and in the South and East China Seas.
However, in some the most significant remarks since the visit, Blinken added that the US does not support independence for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.
“I reiterated the long-standing US ‘One China’ policy… that policy has not changed,” Blinken said.
“We do not support Taiwan independence. We remain opposed to any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side,” he added.
Taiwan, a dominant supplier of critical, advanced chips to the world, emerged as one of the core issues during Blinken’s visit.
China’s Xi had urged Washington not to “hurt China’s legitimate rights and interests,” on Monday.
A Chinese readout quoted top diplomat Wang as saying “China has no room for compromise or concessions” on Taiwan.
The United States has long stuck to a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would respond militarily to an attack on Taiwan, which Beijing has refused to rule out.
“We remain committed to meeting our responsibilities under the Taiwan relations act, including making sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself,” Blinken said at the news conference.
‘Vigilance’ on Russia tech transfers
Meanwhile, Blinken said he had asked China’s leaders to be vigilant about private companies that may be providing Russia with technology that could be used in the war against Ukraine.
He added, however, that he had seen no evidence that Beijing is providing lethal assistance to Moscow.
“What we do have ongoing concerns about, though, are Chinese firms, companies, that may be providing technology that Russia can use to advance its aggression in Ukraine and we have asked the Chinese government to be very vigilant about that,” Blinken told reporters.
China and Russia announced a “no-limits” partnership shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. Beijing has since faced claims that it has been supplying lethal weapons to Moscow.
“With regard to lethal aid to Russia for use in Ukraine, we and other countries have received assurances from China that it is not, and will not, provide lethal assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine,” Blinken said.
“We appreciate that, and we have not seen any evidence that contradicts that,” he told reporters.
Asked for comment on Blinken’s remarks, the Chinese embassy in Washington said China is committed to promoting peace talks and has not provided weapons to either side in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“We oppose the unfair prohibition or restriction on normal economic and trade activities between Chinese and foreign companies. We urge the US side not to undermine China’s legitimate rights and interests in any form when handling the Ukraine issue and its relations with Russia,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu said in an emailed statement.
Spy balloon incident ‘should be closed’
Blinken had been slated to visit China in February, but postponed that trip after a Chinese ‘spy balloon’ was found flying over US airspace.
While the US military shot the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina, Beijing maintained it was not meant for spying and slammed America’s actions as fuelling a spiral in relations.
In an interview with MSNBC posted online on Tuesday, Blinken said the spy balloon incident with China “should be closed”.
“We did what we needed to do to protect our interests. We said what we needed to say and made clear what [we] needed to make clear in terms of this not happening again.
“So as long as it doesn’t, that chapter should be closed,” Antony Blinken said in the video interview with MSNBC.
- Reuters, with additional inputs from Vishakha Saxena