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Blinken to Travel to China This Weekend as US Looks to Reset Relations After Spy Balloon Incident

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Beijing this weekend, the State Department announced on Wednesday – a significant trip that comes as the Biden administration navigates its complicated relationship with China.

The top US diplomat will travel to the Chinese capital as the United States works to rectify normal channels of communications amid ongoing tensions between the two nations, including two military-related incidents in recent weeks. Blinken was originally set to travel to Beijing in early February, but postponed his trip due to a Chinese spy balloon transiting the US.

Blinken will be the first Cabinet official to travel to China under the Biden administration, and the first since 2019.

A top State Department official said Wednesday both the United States and China came “to the shared conclusion that now is the right time to engage at this level.”

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink said he would not expect “a long list of deliverables” to come out of the visit, but described it as “a really critical series of engagements that we’ll have in Beijing at a crucial time in the relationship that we again hope will, at a minimum, reduce the risk of miscalculation so that we do not veer into potential conflict.”

There have been a number of engagements between US and Chinese officials in the subsequent months, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Kritenbrink himself, and based on those interactions, “I think there’s a realization on both sides that it is important to have these channels of communication,” the assistant secretary said.

“Now is the precisely the time for intense diplomacy,” said Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, who noted that this was “not a strategic shift or something new to American statecraft.”

“We have decades of experience talking to an agent working with competitors when our interests call for it,” he said.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Blinken would meet with “senior PRC officials” while in Beijing. The US officials did not give details about who those officials are or whether that would include a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Campbell noted that “we expect a series of visits in both directions in the period ahead” following Blinken’s visit.

Blinken will ‘advocate strongly’ for military to military communications

Prior to the public announcement of the trip, Blinken spoke by phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. China’s Foreign Ministry said Qin used that call to stress “that the US needs to respect China’s concerns, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition.”

Kritenbrink said the agenda would focus on three main goals: establishing communication channels “that are open and empowered to discuss important challenges, address misperceptions and prevent miscalculation,” discussing US concerns “on a range of issues” as well as on “a host of regional and global security matters,” and “exploring potential cooperation on transnational challenges when it is in our interest in areas such as climate and global macroeconomic stability.”

Blinken is also expected to raise concerns about China’s role in the fentanyl crisis, Taiwan and cross-Strait issues and the war in Ukraine.

“I think it is undeniable that there are elements of China’s policy towards Ukraine and its engagement with Russia that we watch it carefully and that we have concerns over and that this will be a topic of conversation,” Campbell said.

Campbell told reporters that Blinken will “advocate strongly” for the need for appropriate military to military communications. Beijing has rebuffed high-level military dialogue and turned down a formal meeting between China’s Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin while both were in Singapore.

“We’ve advocated for these discussions consistently, and China has resisted some of those efforts,” Campbell said. “I believe Secretary Blinken will advocate strongly that these lines of communication are necessary, they’re how mature, strong militaries interact, and the stakes are just too high to avoid these critical lines of communication.”

According to Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat is also expected to bring up the cases of wrongfully detained Americans in China. There are three Americans publicly known to be wrongfully detained there: Mark Swidan, Kai Li, and David Lin.

Source : CNN