Blinken’s China visit could be a turning point | Sunday Observer

Blinken’s China visit could be a turning point

2 July, 2023
Chinese President Xi Jinping with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing
Chinese President Xi Jinping with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing

Along-awaited and a long-delayed visit to China by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at last kicked off on June 18. From 2018, no senior US official had visited Beijing, partly as a result of heightened tensions and partly as a result of the Covid pandemic.  

Secretary Blinken is the first high-ranking US official to lead such a high-powered delegation to China under President Joe Biden’s administration. This visit was a subject of the discussion between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met in person in the Indonesian city of Bali last year.

Though the visit  was originally planned  for February 5 to 6 this year, the visit was postponed over the saga of the Chinese balloon which entered American airspace. This balloon was shot down by US fighter planes. Sino-US relations have gone downhill from the days of President Donald Trump and things got worse over the balloon affair.

Washington is concerned as China’s influence grows in Africa and recently in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. China and the USA have many disagreements and arguments on many issues. However, they are aware that any conflict among them based on these issues would have far reaching negative consequences not just for their two countries but also for the whole world.

Issues such as Taiwan, human rights, Xinjiang, South China Sea, trade and China’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine War have become a thorn in the bilateral relationship. Both countries blame each other on some of these issues. Nevertheless, before the Blinken visit, high ranking officials from both countries met in several third countries to discuss various issues and to pave the way for this high-profile visit.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns who is a former US Ambassador to Moscow made a secret visit to Beijing last May and US National Security Adviser (NSA) Jake Sullivan met senior Chinese officials in Vienna, Austria. Although no significant gains can be expected from Blinken’s breakthrough visit, he held talks with his counterpart Qin Gang for over seven hours during his two-day tour. The topics included human rights issues in the Xinjiang Province and the autonomous region of Tibet.

Moderate view

He also had a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping for around 35 minutes, which was not in the original agenda and was given with just one hour’s prior notice. President Biden has a more moderate view of China than his predecessor and has called for improved bilateral relations, though with due caution. This is because Washington is worried  about China’s access to technology that makes chips for computers which might affect US national security. China, along with Russia, has also become a topic for the 2024 Presidential Election, which President Biden plans to contest. His opponent is likely to be former President Trump.

This visit by Secretary Blinken came at a crucial juncture in international politics at a time of heightened tensions on all sides. Regarding international issues, the War in Ukraine remains of paramount importance as the US is indirectly involved in the conflict through weapons supplies to Ukraine through NATO.

China, on the other hand, has maintained an outwardly neutral stance on the War, though China and Russia are committed to a “friendship without limits” following a recent meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. China is not condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it has apparently ruled out formally supplying weapons to Moscow. However, Chinese weapons are said to be used by Russian Forces, probably procured through third parties or countries.

According to political analysts, the two-day meeting in Beijing did not immediately raise the prospect of enhanced relations between the two nations.

However, it is being viewed as an opportunity to reset the ties that have been strained in recent times. It is learned that Secretary Blinken discussed with high-ranking Chinese officials about the long-standing burning issues namely mainland China’s issue with Taiwan and also the issue of several American citizens currently in  custody  in China on espionage charges.

Concern has been expressed in many quarters that Russia’s action over Ukraine could serve as a template for future action against Taiwan, which Beijing considers as a renegade province that should one day be reunified with the mainland. It is believed that most of the talks were held behind closed doors in secure locations. Journalists were given only photo opportunities.

Both countries agreed on working together for the improvement of bilateral relations, but they are still wary of each other. Although the talks did not make any breakthrough, both parties expressed satisfaction over the progress made and agreed to have another round of talks in Washington, DC, probably a few months from now.

Pressure on Pyongyang

It seems that North Korea, which has carried out missile tests despite opposition by the international community, is not happy with Secretary Blinken’s visit as he had demanded China to apply pressure on Pyongyang to stop its aggression against South Korea and the West.

Tensions remain in the region even after the visit by Secretary Blinken.

 North Korea launched several missiles while the Chinese Navy carried out military manoeuvres in international waters near Taiwan, which drew the ire of many neighbouring nations. The US Navy Aircraft Carrier “Ronald Reagan” was seen in action in military exercises with the participation of French, Canadian and Japanese Navy vessels. 

However, Secretary Blinken was careful not to criticise or mention any negative sentiments about the “One China Policy”, which the US has agreed to follow. Its relations with Taiwan are governed by a separate piece of legislation passed by Congress. Several high profile visits to Taiwan by US lawmakers in recent times have irked China. But the world will benefit in many ways if the two superpowers enhance their relationship at this crucial time.

The author has earned a Master’s Degree from the Moscow State University and is a former News Editor of the Soviet (USSR) Embassy information department in Colombo.