Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
January 31, 2023
We certainly hope Secretary Blinken’s first visit to Beijing this coming weekend will be productive. He will be the highest US official to hold meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020. The US and China face significant challenges with many fundamental issues or structure differences accumulated more than 70 years ago. The bloody face to face confrontations during the Korean war are case in mind, there is no peace treaty yet, so the war has not ended. But it should not be a major focus of the meeting. Both Biden and Xi merely inherited the hot potato. The Taiwan issue follows the same historical track. Even the ongoing war in Ukraine, which China is not a waring party, has the same complex geopolitical context. There is NO reason to hope that these legacy issues will be resolved by one or two bilateral meetings in Beijing or DC.
Similarly, the structure issues including governance (democratic vs autocratic), human rights, state owned business vs private business, etc. are all important. But no one can expect a leopard to change its spots overnight. Instead of critique and demand changes, it would be better to find some common approaches that both nations can learn from each other and implement some joint projects addressing these issues.
Most of the China experts in the US do not expect any major breakthrough and it is reasonable. Because giving the importance of the US-China bilateral relations, there are many mine fields than low hanging fruits. But some tangible conclusions or agreements will be easy to gauge whether Secretary Blinken’s first visit to Beijing is successful:
- Will there be a follow up reciprocal visit by Foreign Minister Qin to DC soon?
- Will there be a meeting between the head of USTR with her Chinese counterpart, Minister of Commerce Department, on resolving trade disputes?
- Will there be a meeting planned for Vice Premier Liu (or his replacement) with Secretary Yellen?
In terms of the US expectation of resuming military-to-military communications, it will depend how the Chinese perceives Secretary Blinken’s explanation of the US position/plan of militarizing Taiwan. A particularly challenging issue for Secretary Blinken is how to address or explain the US congress anti-Chinese measures to the Chinese.
No matter how successful Secretary Blinken’s travel and effort, if Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, landed in Taipei later this year, it will be a new ball game for President Biden to deal with President Xi!
Blinken to visit China as both sides seek stable relations
By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian · Jan 31, 2023
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China this weekend, as both Washington and Beijing seek to lower the temperature in what remains a dangerously tense bilateral relationship.
Why it matters: The superpowers are openly trying to outmaneuver each other in sectors ranging from technology to security to trade, and face a growing risk of conflict over Taiwan.
Flashback: The last time a U.S. secretary of state visited China was Mike Pompeo’s trip in 2018 — a meeting fraught with disagreements, as the Trump administration began a period of open confrontation with Beijing.
What’s happening: The visit is the latest in a series of high-level meetings between the U.S. and China in recent months in which both sides have publicly sought to convey a somewhat softer tone.
- Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia in November. Top East Asia diplomat Daniel Kritenbrink and his counterpart Xie Feng also met in China in December.
What to watch: Don’t expect many concrete deliverables from Blinken’s trip, analysts say, but do expect both sides to emphasize managing tensions.
“This is really about reestablishing the undergirding of the relationship,” Jude Blanchette, the Freeman chair in China studies at the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a public briefing.
What to watch:
The U.S. government is currently drafting a report, due to be submitted to Congress by the end of February, that sketches out a national security screening process for outgoing investment to China — which if adopted would be an unprecedented step.
Republican officials in Texas are threatening to bar Chinese, Iranian, North Korean, and Russian nationals from buying property in the state
NSC spokesman John Kirby comments on rumors of possible wars with Iran and China during an interview Monday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: In a new memo, a top U.S. Air Force General is warning of a potential conflict with China, the U.S. and China in 2025. Is that accurate, does the administration agree, and was there such an assessment by this top Air Force general?
JOHN KIRBY: You know, we have addressed the challenges coming out of China here for quite some time. It is very plainly in our national security strategy, it’s in the Pentagon’s national defense strategy. They call it the pacing challenge. And we need to make sure that, in every sphere of government, we can meet that challenge head-on. The president believes that we are, should be in competition with China and that it should not devolve into conflict. And there is no reason for it to, Wolf. There’s no reason for the bilateral relationship — the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world to sort of erupt into some kind of conflict. But we do believe, and the president has made clear, that we are in a competition with China, a competition that he believes the United States is well poised to win.
Taiwan, North Korea and other tricky issues loom over Blinken’s China trip
Low expectations as bid to reset relationship faces policy landmines on all sides.
Chinese technical support for Russian mercenaries in Ukraine, North Korean nuclear weapons and the prospect of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan could all be on the table when Secretary of State Antony Blinken touches down in Beijing for a high-stakes diplomatic visit this weekend.
Mr. Blinken is being dispatched to try to build on the guarded smiles that President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping exchanged in November on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in Indonesia. Mr. Biden vowed that the U.S. will “compete vigorously” with China but seek to “maintain open lines of communication.” The two sides agreed to explore areas where they could cooperate, including on issues such as climate change and curbing the trafficking into the U.S. of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby portrayed the trip as a way to restart conversations on issues frozen in recent months as bilateral relations cratered.
“One of the goals of this trip is to see about getting some of those vehicles restored and/or revitalized,” he said, calling the U.S.-Chinese relationship “the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world.”
Yet the relationship is so fraught overall that analysts say success for Mr. Blinken may consist of simply establishing a fundamental and stable diplomatic track with Chinese Communist Party officials to cool down talk of a direct military clash between the world’s most powerful democracy and its most powerful autocracy.
“This is really about reestablishing the undergirding of the relationship and putting in place some procedures and mechanisms,” said Jude Blanchette, a China expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The White House views this trip as just another step in building on the trajectory since November,” he told reporters on a call previewing the trip. “They don’t say this, but I think the goal is to fast-forward this Cold War to its detente phase, thereby skipping a Cuban missile crisis.”
With the White House eager to promote calm in the relationship, items such as coordination on climate change initiatives likely will be expressed. More divisive issues, such as Beijing’s purchase of Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions, its blind eye toward the sale of nuclear equipment by Chinese companies to North Korea, and its repressive policies against the minority Uyghur Muslims in western China are unlikely to be front and center.
China has its own grievances, including rising U.S. engagement with Taiwan, the continuing high tariffs on Chinese exports and frustration over the Biden administration’s widening push to limit Beijing’s access to the high-tech microchips that U.S. officials fear could be used in futuristic weapons for China’s expanding military forces.
The broader issue of Mr. Xi’s vow to bring U.S.-backed Taiwan under Beijing’s control — using military force if necessary — hangs more broadly over Mr. Blinken’s visit. The secretary of state’s trip coincides with rising outrage in Beijing over a U.S. general’s leaked memo predicting war with China by 2025 and reports that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, intends to follow Mrs. Pelosi with a visit to Taiwan.
Taiwan looms large
Politico has reported that Mr. Blinken will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sunday and Monday. It is not known whether the secretary of state will be granted a meeting with Mr. Xi.
Whether or not the Chinese leader grants Mr. Blinken an audience is likely to depend on how contentious the secretary of state’s initial meeting gets with the foreign minister.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has suggested that Mr. Qin will be welcoming but could be combative.• Guy Taylor can be reached at [email protected].