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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins rare China trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun meetings in Beijing, the first top American diplomat to visit China in five years.

Sunday’s meetings come amid frosty bilateral ties and dim prospects for any breakthrough on the long list of disputes between the world’s two largest economies.

Having postponed a February trip after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over US airspace, Mr Blinken is the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang greeted Mr Blinken and his group at the door to a villa in the grounds of Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House, as the two made small talk in English before shaking hands in front a Chinese and an American flag.

After heading into a meeting room, neither Mr Blinken nor Mr Qin made comments in front of reporters who were briefly allowed in.

During his stay through to Monday, Mr Blinken is also expected to meet with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping, seeking to establish open and durable communication channels to ensure the strategic rivalry between the two countries does not spiral into conflict.

There is an expectation Mr Blinken’s visit will pave the way for more bilateral meetings in coming months, including possible trips by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

It could also set the stage for meetings between Mr Xi and+Mr Biden at multilateral summits later in the year.

Mr Biden said on Saturday he hoped to meet with President Xi in the next several months.

A November meeting of the two leaders on the Indonesian island of Bali briefly eased fears of a new Cold War, but following the flight of the alleged Chinese spy balloon over the United States, high-level communication has been rare.

The rest of the world will closely follow Mr Blinken’s trip as any escalation between superpowers could have worldwide repercussions on everything from financial markets to trade routes and practices and global supply chains.

“There’s a recognition on both sides that we do need to have senior-level channels of communication,” a senior State Department official told reporters during a refuelling stop in Tokyo en route to Beijing.

“That we are at an important point in the relationship where I think reducing the risk of miscalculation, or as our Chinese friends often say, stopping the downward spiral in the relationship, is something that’s important,” the official said.

Ties between the countries have deteriorated across the board, raising concerns that they might one day clash militarily over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

They are also at odds over issues ranging from trade, US efforts to hold back China’s semiconductor industry and Beijing’s human rights track record.

Particularly alarming for China’s neighbours has been its reluctance to engage in regular military-to-military talks with Washington, despite repeated US attempts.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday before departing for Beijing, Mr Blinken said his trip had three main objectives: Setting up mechanisms for crisis management, advancing US and allies’ interests and speaking directly about related concerns, and exploring areas of potential co-operation.

Among topics likely to be discussed are potentially increasing commercial flights between the two countries, a US official said, describing it as a move that would help promote people to people ties, although the official did not predict any progress.

-Reuters

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