What to Know in Washington: Stakes Rise For Blinken’s China Trip

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s last attempt to visit China was derailed by an alleged Chinese spy balloon.

Now — as the highest-ranking US official to visit China in five years — he’s ready to try again, departing tomorrow for a two-day trip aimed at stabilizing ties with the world’s second-largest economy and reducing the risk that miscommunication ignites conflict between the two superpowers.

Here are five things to watch during the visit:


1. China’s Reception

A meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping is possible and would be significant. Blinken’s reception in Beijing will offer hints at how willing China is to engage at the highest levels. President Joe Biden, for instance, has been waiting for a call with Xi that’s been in the works since early May.

2. Low Expectations

Washington is already trying to lower expectations. “We need to be realistic,” Kurt Campbell, the White House’s top Asia official, said Wednesday. “We’re not going to Beijing with the intent of having some sort of breakthrough or transformation in the way that we deal with one another.”

3. Stabilizing Ties

Blinken’s overarching goal will be trying to steady a relationship that has huge consequences for the world economy and geopolitics. His planned trip in February would have benefited from the afterglow of the first in-person meeting as leaders between Biden and Xi in late 2022. Since then relations have soured over a series of spats and accusations.

4. Improving Communications

Things are so rocky that Blinken’s first step toward that stability will be just restoring lines of communication, particularly over military matters. The world’s two most powerful nations have very few direct ways of talking and lack a dedicated military-to-military line to deescalate incidents. Plus, China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu recently rejected a request to meet Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

5. Taiwan

Taiwan is the most sensitive, and potentially explosive, area of US-China relations. Blinken is going to drive home the message that the Biden administration isn’t trying to upset the status quo. But he’s also going to have to condemn Chinese economic coercion and military pressure on Taiwan, which has increased in recent years. There won’t be any breakthrough on the fundamentals, but the tone will be telling. Read the full story from Iain Marlow.


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To contact the reporter on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at gmacri@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kayla Sharpe at ksharpe@bloombergindustry.com

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