U.S.-China ties are ‘beginning to stabilize,’ Chinese minister tells Blinken

BEIJING — Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Chinese counterpart on Friday, capping a trip that included a basketball game and a conversation with Chinese college students with a weightier effort to dial back China’s support for Russia’s defense industry.

Relations have improved significantly since Blinken last visited 10 months ago, after a Chinese spy balloon’s transit across the United States set off an unusually broad national blowback to China’s espionage activity. Since then, conversations have become far more routine, enabling the world’s two biggest economies and superpower rivals to return to managing their tense but interdependent relationship.

Blinken on Friday morning began more than six hours of scheduled meetings with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, giving the two sides ample time to air their differences about a host of issues that also include reviving military-to-military discussions and China’s frosty relationship with Taiwan. Beijing has also complained about U.S. efforts to cut off Chinese access to advanced semiconductors that would enable it to make progress on artificial intelligence that could have military applications.

The top U.S. diplomat is also likely to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping, although those kinds of conversations are usually locked down only at the last minute. Xi and President Biden spoke earlier this month by phone and clashed on the subject of export controls, which the Biden administration says are necessary to keep U.S. technology from undermining U.S. security and Beijing complains is simply an effort to restrict its economic rise.

“I look forward in these discussions to being very clear, very direct about the areas where we have differences, and where the United States stands,” Blinken said Friday at the start of the meetings with Wang.

He called the U.S.-China exchanges “the most consequential relationship, I think for both of us, in the world.”

Welcoming Blinken to the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, Wang offered a cautious assessment of the discussions. “Overall the China-U. S. relationship is beginning to stabilize,” he told Blinken. “This is welcomed by our two people.”

But, Wang said, “the negative factors in the relationship are still increasing and building, and the relationship is facing all kinds of disruptions. China’s reasonable development rights have been unreasonably suppressed and our core interests are facing challenges.”

He warned against “engaging in rivalry and confrontation and even sliding toward conflict.”

The two sides have traded sharp exchanges over Beijing’s support for Russia’s war against Ukraine by selling raw materials and dual-use technology to Russia’s defense industry. The Biden administration has been trying to solidify a strategy alongside Europe to deliver a joint message to Chinese leaders to scale back support.

Just how successful that will be remains in question. With the United States threatening hikes in tariffs on steel and aluminum, Chinese leaders appear to have little appetite for making concessions elsewhere in the relationship.

And although Europe appears to have endorsed the broad strokes of Washington’s vision, some European nations, notably Germany, still have a more conciliatory approach. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Beijing last week to meet top Chinese leaders, part of an effort that included bolstering trade ties.

Blinken spoke Thursday of “the necessity of direct engagement, of sustained engagement, of speaking to each other, laying out our differences which are real, seeking to work through them,” as well as looking for ways to cooperate.

“We have an obligation for our people and, indeed, an obligation for the world to manage the relationship between our two countries responsibly,” he said in a meeting with Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Chen Jining.

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