China’s top diplomat raises hopes for improving US ties as he starts three-day visit to Washington

Oct 25, 2023, 9:31 PM | Updated: Oct 26, 2023, 3:38 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — China’s top diplomat said Thursday that dialogue between Beijing and Washington should not only be resumed but deepened, comments that raise hopes the relationship between the world’s two largest economies can be steadied in the midst of potentially world-changing conflicts in the Middle East and Europe.

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, spoke at the beginning of a three-day visit to Washington, during which he is meeting with high-level U.S. officials, including possibly President Joe Biden, at a time both countries are eager to stem any further decline in their ties.

“The China and U.S. sides need dialogue. We should resume dialogue, and what we need more is to deepen our dialogue, and have all-around dialogue,” Wang said before going into a closed-door meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Through dialogue, we will increase understanding and reduce misunderstanding and misjudgment.”

With Blinken looking on, Wang said China will seek consensus and cooperation to “push the relationship as soon as possible back to the track of healthy, stable and sustainable development.”

Blinken and Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, are expected to press Wang on the importance of China stepping up its role on the world stage if it wants to be considered a responsible major international player.

The U.S. has been disappointed with China over its support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and its relative silence on the war between Israel and Hamas. In addition, Beijing and Washington are at odds on issues such as human rights, climate change, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

Wang’s meetings could set the stage for a summit between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders gathering in San Francisco.

Both sides have expressed a willingness to talk since Blinken canceled a visit to China in February after the shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S., which marked a low point in recent relations.

In the months that followed that crisis, Blinken rescheduled his trip and went to China in June. He was followed in quick succession by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, climate envoy John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

In addition, Sullivan met with Wang in Malta in mid-September ahead of Blinken’s discussions with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng later that month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. And Blinken spoke just last week with Wang about the Israel-Hamas crisis.

The goal, according to U.S. officials, is to arrange another Biden-Xi summit at which the two leaders could explore cooperation or at least easing outright hostility on the most pressing matters of the day.

“Wang Yi’s visit will serve as one of the final touchpoints in laying the groundwork” for the Biden-Xi meeting, said Ryan Hass, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “Wang’s meetings in Washington will set the contours for the topics the two leaders will discuss when they meet in November.”

“It opens the possibility of the world’s two largest powers pursuing coordinated efforts to limit escalation or expansion of violence in Ukraine and the Middle East,” he said.

Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, another Washington think tank, said Wang’s trip signals that the Xi-Biden summit is almost certain.

“Wang is here to pave the ground for Xi’s San Francisco trip. That’s the core focus of the trip. It means issues will be negotiated, solutions will be discussed and details will be deliberated and inked,” Sun said. “The APEC summit is 20 days away, so time is of essence. His trip means that Xi is coming. Xi’s coming means meeting with Biden. The Xi-Biden summit means efforts to stabilize bilateral ties.”

Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it is important for Wang and the Americans to discuss points of contention in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere but that it is unlikely the two sides will reach much agreement.

However, Wang’s trip could yield results such as additional direct flights between the two countries, visas for more journalists and even agreements on climate change and resumption of high-level military dialogue, Kennedy said.

On Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed Chinese reports that Cynthia Carras, principal director for China, Taiwan, Mongolia, will represent the U.S. Defense Department at the Xiangshan Forum, which begins Sunday in Beijing. The forum organizers earlier this week said she had registered for the event, along with Chad Sbragia, a former Pentagon official.

Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, said “relevant Chinese officials will conduct exchanges with her.” He also said Beijing “attaches great importance to the development of military-to-military relations” between the two countries.

During Wang’s visit to Washington, he will “have in-depth exchanges of views” with U.S. officials on a range of issues and “state China’s principled position and legitimate concerns” on relations between the two countries, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

The Chinese president last came to the U.S. in 2017, when former President Donald Trump hosted him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Biden, who took office in 2021, has yet to host Xi on U.S. soil. The two men last met in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting of leading rich and developing nations.

Wang’s trip is one of a string of meetings and activities to warm up Xi’s visit to the U.S.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is visiting China this week, had a surprise meeting with Xi on Wednesday in Beijing. The Chinese president told the governor that “the achievements of China-U.S. relations have not come easily and should be cherished all the more,” according to the official news agency Xinhua.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a delegation of six senators to China, in the first visit by U.S. lawmakers since 2019. Schumer was also received by Xi, who said the Thucydides Trap is “not inevitable.” The Thucydides Trap is a political term for the tendency of major clashes when an emerging power challenges an existing power.

The U.S.-China relationship began to sour in 2018 when the Trump administration slapped hefty tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. It deteriorated further over a range of issues, including rights abuses, the South China Sea, Taiwan, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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China’s top diplomat raises hopes for improving US ties as he starts three-day visit to Washington