Blinken Due In China Seeking Pressure But Also Stability

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his plane at Joint Base Andrews on his way to Beijing

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due in China on Wednesday, as the United States ramps up pressure on its rival over its support for Russia while also seeking to manage tensions with Beijing.

The US diplomat will meet China’s top brass on Friday in Beijing, where he is also expected to plead for restraint as Taiwan inaugurates a new leader, and to raise US concerns on Chinese trade practices — a vital issue for President Joe Biden in an election year.

But Blinken is also seeking to stabilise ties, with tensions between the world’s two largest economies palpably easing since his last visit in June.

At the time, he was the highest-ranking US official to visit China in five years, and the trip was followed by a meeting between the countries’ presidents in November.

At that summit in California, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a US wish list including restoring contact between militaries and cracking down on precursor chemicals to fentanyl, the powerful painkiller behind an addiction epidemic in the United States.

Blinken will start his visit on Wednesday in Shanghai.

While in the city, he will meet students and business leaders in what an aide called a bid to highlight warm ties between the American and Chinese peoples.

The friendly side trip — the first visit by a US secretary of state to the bustling metropolis since Hillary Clinton in 2010 — would have been unthinkable until recently, with hawks on both sides previously speaking of a new Cold War between the two powers.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen similarly toured the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou before visiting Beijing earlier this month.

A senior US official previewing Blinken’s trip said that the United States and China were at a “different place than we were a year ago, when the bilateral relationship was at an historic low point”.

“We also believe, and we have also clearly demonstrated, that responsibly managing competition does not mean we will pull back from measures to protect US national interests,” he said.

The Biden administration’s eagerness to engage China stands in stark contrast to its efforts to isolate Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

After initially being pleased that Beijing has not directly supplied weapons to Russia, the United States in recent weeks has accused China of lavishing industrial material and technology on Moscow.

Washington has encouraged European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who recently visited Beijing, to stand firm on China not backing Russia, believing that it wants stable ties with the West as it focuses on addressing economic headwinds at home.

“If China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fuelling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said Friday after Group of Seven talks in Capri, Italy.

The Biden administration has trumpeted the agreement with Xi on fentanyl as a success.

A State Department official said that since the November summit, China appears to have taken its first law enforcement measures on the matter since 2017.

Blinken will ask for further implementation, the official said.

“More regular PRC law enforcement action against PRC-based chemical companies and pill press manufacturers involved in illicit fentanyl supply chains would send a strong signal of China’s commitment to address this issue,” the official said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

One source of friction between the two countries is new legislation that cleared the US Congress on Tuesday — and which Biden intends to sign — requiring the wildly popular social media app TikTok to be divested from its Chinese parent company ByteDance, or be shut out of the American market.

Biden faces a rematch in November against former president Donald Trump, who has vowed a more confrontational approach against China.

Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said that China’s leaders, eager to focus on their economy, were in a wait-and-see mode ahead of the US election.

“The Chinese understand that the Biden administration is unlikely to deliver any good news on trade because that simply does not support the election agenda,” she said.

For Chinese leaders this year, “their priority is to keep the relationship stable”.

“Until there is clarity on who the next administration will be, I don’t think they see a better strategy,” she said.

Visitors in March 2024 tour the Bund promenade in Shanghai, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be visiting

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