Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken was scheduled to meet Xi Jinping, China’s leader, on Monday in Beijing, as the two governments sought to pull relations out of a deep stalemate that has raised concerns about the growing risk of conflict between them.
Mr. Blinken met earlier Monday with Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, who said the two countries have a responsibility to the world to reverse the downward spiral in their relationship, according to an official Chinese statement of the three-hour meeting. But he struck a tough tone when he blamed Washington for the tensions.
The State Department brief took a measured approach, saying that the two senior officials had a “frank and productive discussion” and that Mr. Blinken stressed that the two powers must manage their rivalry responsibly “through open channels of communication to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict.”
The State Department announced in the mid-afternoon that Mr. Blinken will meet with Mr. Xi at 4:30 p.m. local time on Monday.
Mr. Blinken is the first US Secretary of State to visit Beijing since 2018. The effort to establish regular high-level diplomacy comes as bilateral relations are at their lowest point in decades. Tensions rose in February when the Pentagon announced that a Chinese surveillance balloon was drifting across the continental United States — prompting Mr. Blinken to cancel a previously planned trip to Beijing — and then ordered American fighter jets to shoot it down.
Relations soured further in February when Mr. Blinken confronted Mr. Wang on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to tell him that Washington believed China was considering lethal support for Russia in its war in Ukraine. China responded by freezing some important diplomatic exchanges and intensifying anti-American rhetoric.
In recent weeks, the two countries have sought to restore high-level contacts to better manage tensions that have risen over recent years. Officials on both sides said that two days of diplomacy in Beijing would ideally lead to a series of visits to the Chinese capital soon by other top US officials, including Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, Gina Raimondo, the Commerce secretary, and John Kerry. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Issues.
American officials say maintaining regular dialogue at a senior level is important so that the two governments can talk each other quickly through any crises that might arise, especially as their militaries are increasingly in close contact with each other on the seas and in the air. China and other parts of Asia.
On Monday, Wang, the top foreign policy official, said the United States should cooperate with Beijing rather than “amplify” the “China threat theory,” according to the official Chinese statement. He said Washington should lift sanctions on China and stop suppressing the country’s technological development. He accused the US of “recklessly interfering in China’s internal affairs” on issues such as Taiwan, the de facto independent island to which China claimed the US supplied weapons.
No issue worries Beijing more than Washington’s mounting support for Taiwan. Beijing has also sought to undo Washington’s efforts to restrict its access to advanced semiconductor chips and manufacturing equipment, as well as deepen defense ties with regional allies, notably Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.
A US readout of the meeting with Mr. Wang said Mr. Blinken insisted his government would continue to raise areas of interest with China, but also said the two officials “discussed opportunities to explore cooperation on common transnational challenges.” US officials say climate change, global economic instability and fentanyl production are examples of these challenges.
On Sunday, Mr. Blinken met with Chen Gang, China’s foreign minister, for five and a half hours, and they had dinner for two hours. The talks were “frank, substantive, and constructive,” according to the State Department’s written summary.
State Department officials said the two governments have agreed that working groups and diplomats will meet soon to discuss a range of issues, including increasing access to each country for journalists, scholars and students. US officials also said they and their Chinese counterparts have agreed to expand direct commercial flights between the two countries.
The two-day meetings may halt a deteriorating relationship for the time being, though analysts say it will take a lot for both sides to overcome the mistrust that weighs heavily on the relationship.
The hope is that Mr. Blinken’s visit will help motivate the two governments to “form a principled framework for managing US-China relations, to constrain competition within acceptable limits and create more space for coordinated efforts where US and Chinese interests overlap.” said Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor of political science at Cornell University who recently advised the State Department on China policy.
China has rejected attempts by the Biden administration to create a so-called protective fence to prevent potential incidents in disputed areas such as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea from spiraling out of control. Analysts say that some Chinese officials see any perception by Americans that the Chinese government and its military could be unpredictable as itself a useful deterrent. The thinking goes that the perception might prompt US officials to reconsider their military’s activities in the waters and skies around China.
Analysts said China may have been motivated to meet with Mr. Blinken for a number of reasons. The pressure on Beijing to stabilize relations may be increasing due to the deterioration of the Chinese economy. Other countries have also been appealing to China and the United States to break the cycle of hostility between them. Mr. Xi may also have wanted to cement the relationship so that he would be greeted as a global statesman if he chose to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Group leaders’ summit in San Francisco in November.
China has spent the past several months blaming the United States for everything that is wrong in the relationship and within China more broadly. “Now, China’s leaders need to find political space to focus on more direct communication,” said Ryan Haas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was director for China on the National Security Council under President Obama.
He added, “Beijing believes that it is in its interest to communicate directly to manage the pressures in the relationship, and to build a ramp for President Xi to meet with President Biden in the fall.”