US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, a long-time confidant of President Joe Biden, will travel to Beijing amid continuing strains in relations between the world’s two largest economies as part of a trip that began on June 16, the State Department said in a statement today.
“While in Beijing, Secretary Blinken will meet with senior PRC (People’s Republic of China) officials where he will discuss the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to responsibly manage the US-PRC relationship,” the statement said. “He will also raise bilateral issues of concern, global and regional matters, and potential cooperation on shared transnational challenges.”
Neither side has said whether Blinken, a journalist and lawyer earlier in his career, would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. One likely topic would be a possible Xi visit to the US for a meeting of APEC leaders in San Francisco in November. Blinken last week just concluded a trip to Saudi Arabia, where members of the Gulf Cooperation Council later gathered to express warm support from Arab-China business amid a big push by Beijing to expand its ties to that region.
Blinken’s visit follows the postponement of a planned trip earlier this year after an alleged spy balloon from China floated over the US heartland in February, creating a political uproar in Congress. China later targeted US companies in the mainland on security grounds, including due diligence and research firms Bain and Mintz Group, and announced an anti-espionage law to take effect on July 1 that American businesses fear could cover many routine business activities.
Biden last month called the balloon “silly” and has faced criticism for not making a public investigation into the matter. However, adding to pressure on already strained ties, the US this week acknowledged that China had set up a spy station in Cuba, and added 31 Chinese companies to a list of businesses engaged in activities that hurt American security.
US business leaders looking to the China market as an offset to slow economic growth at home will privately support any lowering of tension between the two countries, though try to avoid any public comments owing to fears of being questioned by the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, a knowledgeable former diplomat said. That Congressional group is “committed to working on a bipartisan basis to build consensus on the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party and develop a plan of action to defend the American people, our economy, and our values,” according to its website.
The overall atmospherics of the US-China economic relationship have improved somewhat following a series of high-level government meetings between the two countries. Daniel Kritenbrink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and China’s Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu held meetings on June 5 that both said were productive. China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao met US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington last month followed by a meeting with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in Detroit on the margins of an APEC trade gathering. Those meetings followed talks in May between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party Politburo Member and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi in Vienna.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon — both with business interests in China — have also visited the country in recent weeks. (See related post here.) Bill Gates reportedly arrived in Beijing today.
Tension soared after a Taiwan visit by then US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi last August prompted Beijing to cut back official contacts with the United States and to launch military drills around the island. The mainland claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, a democratically governed economy of 24 million people that is one of the world’s most important semiconductor manufacturing centers.
In November, a meeting between Biden and Xi in Bali led to expectations that the relationship between the two countries was going to stabilize. Relations plunged again, however, following the spy balloon incident.
During the first term of the Obama Administration, Blinken was national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden, according to Blinken’s State Department biography. “This was the continuation of a long professional relationship that stretched back to 2002,” it notes, when Blinken began his six-year stint as Democratic staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Then-Senator Biden was the chair of that committee from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2009.
Earlier in his career, the department said, Blinken, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from 2001 and 2002. Before joining the government, he also practiced law in New York and Paris. Blinken earlier was a reporter for The New Republic magazines.
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